HAVANA TIMES – This week we received the following statement from Keivan Esfandiyar, an Iranian refugee living in Havana in a sort of limbo status without a work permit and dependent on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The new economic reforms in Cuba and the lack of a bank card to shop in the government’s USD stores has reduced his and his wife’s survival assistance to a third of what it was. There situation is growingly desperate.
Here is his story:
I am Keivan Esfandiyar, an Iranian refugee living in Havana, Cuba with my wife, for almost three years.
Refugees do not have a work permit and are therefore always dependent on financial assistance from UNHCR in Cuba.
They helped us until January 2021 with a stipend in CUC currency in cash, but this currency doesn’t exist anymore. It is replaced with what they call MLC (foreign currencies) which is not in cash and is only on bank cards. These are only good for shopping in the government stores that sell in USD prices.
Since early 2021 UNHCR has given refugees regular Cuban pesos instead of CUC at the rate of 24 pesos for what was one CUC (the unreal rate of foreign currency the Cuban government announced and UNHCR had to respect). But the MLC (CUC replacement) is over 70 pesos on the street to have them deposited on a shopping card.
In fact, refugee’s financial help has dropped to a third of what it was before Covid-19 spread. Moreover, we are the only people in Cuba unable to buy in the foreign currency stores because we don’t have the debit card and we don’t have the right to have a bank account in Cuba.
I myself send a lot of emails to the Panama UNHCR head office for Cuba asking they attend this problem or give us a temporary card until so we can buy food and a lot of necessary basic products that are only in these stores with USD prices. But they either ignored us or say it is not possible.
On the other hand, we cannot compete in lines to buy food from the stores selling in Cuban pesos where you must fight for your turn in line. It’s common to here people say “go back to your country” or “go buy at the dollar stores”. They don’t realize that we can’t. We are not tourists and can’t get the bank card.
Our problems are endless. For instance, My wife and I suffer from Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and have to take 200mg Sertraline pills everyday but there isn’t any Sertraline like most medications here and UNHCR is fully aware about that for months, but nothing has been done.
It seems refugees matter just in the Middle East or anywhere else that mainstream media talks about it.
You hear news about Afghan refugees, but no one knows about those Afghan living here for 5 to 7 years without a clear future and waiting for resettlement.
In 2021, UNHCR in Cuba only accepted two refugees for resettlement, nobody else (according to UNHCR resettlement data website until August 2021). We are not priority. To conclude, I narrate an Afghan refugee’s remark: “Even in Afghanistan with the Taliban there is more food and medications in comparison with here.”