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Stand in refugee’s shoes, says advocate

CCSJ Chair Leela Ramdeen (left) speaks with Fr Roger Paponette and Rochelle Nakhid after the screening of the documentary. Photo: Lara Pickford-Gordon

Refugees coming to this country with the hope of rebuilding their lives face many challenges. Securing affordable housing is a major concern for them, said Rochelle Nakhid, Programme Co-ordinator of the Living Water Community’s (LWC) Ministry for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

“In an ideal world” people would open their doors to them but if they can get a nice apartment to rent “that would be great”, she said. Although funding received by the LWC made it possible to provide some assistance with rent it is unable to help finance other needs such as furnishings for refugees who get an empty apartment.

“We do have a warehouse in Caroni where donations can be taken,” Nakhid said at the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), Justice Peace and Community Week (October 21–28), St Dominic’s Pastoral Centre Auditorium on October 21. The theme was A Catholic Perspective on The Development of Peoples. Her comments were made during the question and answer period after the screening of the documentary Warehoused about the refugees at Dadaab, Kenya.  

Up to two weeks before the event, there were 1,300 refugees (mainly Venezuelans and Cubans) registered with the LWC. The absence of legislation prevents asylum seekers from working to support themselves. Nakhid said, “That, of course, presents many challenges. If you do not have the right to work you become very dependent on aid, that is what we have to help with on a daily basis.”

The LWC is currently working with government on draft legislation to deal with the issues. While legislation takes time, Nakhid hopes it could be passed in a year or two.

Speaking with the Catholic News she said negative attitudes towards refugees was a worldwide challenge but public awareness can help. Nakhid said, “When you stand in somebody’s shoes you can understand a little better than when you just look from afar; that is one of the things we are trying to improve as we move into 2018, to do more public awareness, explaining the situation so people have a better idea.”

In opening remarks, Chair of the CCSJ Leela Ramdeen called for an end to selfish attitudes because God has given everyone dignity which must be recognised and promoted. Alluding to negative comments on social media following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s appeal for Dominicans to be welcomed Ramdeen said, “We have to get rid of that mindset and open our hearts and minds to hear what God wants us to do.”

Dominica received a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Maria on September 18. – LPG