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Thursday 18 January 2018
Editorial

Refugee refuge

The Cuban regime is accused of systematically denying Cubans basic rights to free expression, association, assembly and due process of law. So it is little wonder that a group of Cuban nationals recently took advantage of rights available in this country by staging a sit-in outside of the local offices of the United Nations.

The dozen or so protestors might be forgiven for being overenthusiastic in their fervour to highlight their desire to obtain refugee status and, with it, a possible ticket to the US. But they cannot be forgiven for violating laws and regulations in force in this country that are designed to balance individual rights with the rights of society at large.

While we cannot know the personal experiences and decisions that culminated in the group setting up camp in the open air at Chancery Lane, Port-of-Spain, it is clear enough that in this time of rampant crime and violence, this course of conduct was reckless. Among the group were three children. The State, and the Child Protection Unit, had little choice but to act on Wednesday.

Even persons who are seeking refugee status must comply with the law. The due process of the law is what holds our democracy together, marking us apart from nations like Cuba. The Cubans do little to advance their applications by trammeling the law.

Indeed, if we are to go by the account given by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi on Wednesday, the protestors’ action was not only unlawful but also alien. It says a lot that they refused accommodation offered them by a non-State, religious entity and instead opted for the pavement. Why? The sight of people camping out on the pavement is bad enough, but it deepens when it involves children. Perhaps the Cubans are aware of how squeamish we are in this regard and anticipated nationals stomping in support of their action and plight.

Ironically, the Cubans have succeeded in highlighting the need for specific facilities to cater for the itinerant here.

There are about 600 refugees and asylum seekers in this country and according to a UNHCR fact sheet from March 2017 the biggest group comprises Cubans at 36 per cent followed by Syrians and then Venezuelans. The numbers are only set to rise, and it may well be the case that current facilities are not fit for purpose.

They should be. There have long been concerns about the standards at the Immigration Detention Centre.

Trinidad and Tobago must uphold the comity between nations. A key way of doing this is by ensuring refugees and applicants – who comply with our laws – have adequate refuge

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