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‘We are here for you’ – Archbishop to refugees

Archbishop Jason Gordon (centre) toured the new UNHCR facility accompanied by (from left) Living Water Community Foundress/Director Rhonda Maingot; Nikita Mohammed, Assistant Coordinator, Refugee Programme; Rochelle Nakhid, Coordinator of Refugee Programme; and LWC Assistant Director Rosemary Scott.

Archbishop Jason Gordon, concerned about the plight of those forced to flee from their homelands, visited the newly opened facility of the UNHCR–Refugee and Asylum Seekers ministry in Port of Spain on January 12.

The archbishop spoke to a gathering of both refugees and asylum seekers, a small representation of the ever-growing numbers here in our country. Also present were members of UNHCR/Living Water Community staff, who work in this ministry.

Nikita Mohammed, Assistant Coordinator of the Ministry, who welcomed the archbishop to the facility, said that when she joined the team last July, there were 700 refugees/asylum seekers registered. She said today there are now 2,600, a number which is growing rapidly and includes about 20 different nationalities.

During his visit, Archbishop Gordon invited the group to listen to the day’s Gospel (Mk 2:1–12): the story of Jesus returning to Capernaum and as soon as people knew he was there they gathered in such numbers that there was no room for anyone. Four friends brought a paralytic man on a stretcher, opened up the roof and let him down, where he was healed by Jesus.

The archbishop used this story to remind those gathered that large crowds are drawn in their ministry, and sometimes it is difficult for those most in need to reach a member of staff. It calls for each person to be resilient, to be like the four friends who did not give up or say that they could not help, that it was too difficult a task. They used all of their energy and imagination to overcome obstacles, to bring their friend to Jesus for help.

He encouraged the staff members to use all their talent, energy and imagination, sometimes for just that one person who needs extreme help.  “Yes,” he said, “it will call for more and more resilience when you have crowds and crowds waiting on you.”

One spokesperson for the refugees struggled to recount her personal story in broken English.  She came here with her small family five years ago and it has been a difficult journey.

She said everything is so different: culture, food, customs. It is very challenging for all of them, she continued, and their hope is for their children to have a better life. They do all this for their children, the future generation. “So many people do not understand our pain, our suffering, and that even though we are different, we are still human beings.”

She thanked God for the members of the Living Water Community who were there to listen to them when they felt sad and depressed. “It is so important to know that someone has heard my pain, someone has listened.”

One of the big concerns for the archbishop is the fact that the children of these families are not allowed to access public education which he reminded us, is a universal right. He promised to approach the governing bodies such as the Ministry of Education and the Catholic Education Board of Management to raise this question and see what can be done in this particular area.

Archbishop Gordon reminded the gathering of the Holy Father’s ‘four pillars’ on which we, the people of Trinidad and Tobago can act by welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating asylum seekers and refugees. “I want you all to know that the Church wants to help you, is here for you and we will see how best we can do this.” – A member of the Living Water Community