Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Gov’t to improve coordination of support to students in Cuba – Johnson Smith

Published:Wednesday | July 28, 2021 | 3:45 PM
Johnson Smith: “I am fully aware there is significant distress and anxiety among our students in accessing certain basic supplies.” - File photo.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith says further plans are under way by the Government to protect the welfare of Jamaican students in Cuba, who are currently experiencing challenges due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in that country.

“I am fully aware there is significant distress and anxiety among our students in accessing certain basic supplies,” said Johnson Smith in a statement this afternoon, stressing that the Government empathises with nationals who are part of the Jamaica-Cuba Bilateral Medical Scholarship Programme and other students studying in the country, as well as with the Government and people of Cuba in these difficult circumstances.

“Our Ambassador in Havana early last year obtained permission for the duty-free purchase of items for students and I understand that 50 students took advantage of that opportunity.

“Efforts were also made to accommodate a further request led by a group of parents on behalf of 30 students in the latter part of last year into early 2021. The Ministry played a central role in coordinating this shipment and received donations from a group of parents in keeping with the limit of 10 kilogrammes or 22 pounds, prescribed by the Cuban authorities. However, this effort was complicated by travel restrictions and reduced means of cargo transportation. The group subsequently identified a shipping company, retrieved the items from the Ministry, and ultimately sent a shipment of more than a thousand pounds over the prescribed limit, requiring significant application of the Ministry's time and limited resources to address,” Johnson Smith outlined.

The foreign affairs minister is seeking to reassure the public that her Ministry is committed to improving the Government's broader coordinated support to students in Cuba, adding that alternative shipping arrangements are being explored.

While dealing with this instant case, she said that the Ministry is currently verifying the number of Jamaican students still in Cuba as it was advised that many have already returned.

“We are also working with interested stakeholders, in both the public and private sectors, on making use of the new procedures announced by the Cuban authorities for the importation of food, medicine, and other essentials, which will be in effect until 31st December 2021. The Embassy in Havana will update all students on the outcome of these discussions. The students are also encouraged to explore private use of this opportunity.”

The foreign affairs minister also said that the Embassy in Havana will be working with student groups in the different provinces to create a needs list.

Additionally, the Ministry will be meeting with parents and other representative groups to determine the best way forward.

“The foreign affairs ministry takes very seriously its mandate for the promotion and protection of the welfare of our nationals overseas, wherever they reside. Beyond its support by way of disbursement of scholarship stipends and responding to ongoing consular requests of the student population, the Embassy of Jamaica in Cuba, with its limited staff, has remained alert to the specific challenges now being experienced. In this regard, the Embassy has had the full and constant support of its headquarters in Kingston. It is therefore regretted that there is a view that the Ministry has been unsympathetic and unresponsive to the concerns of our student population.”

Johnson Smith said that the Ministry looks forward to better and more coordinated engagement with the student population in Cuba.

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