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Staten Island Protester Arrested and Charged With Assaulting Asylum Seeker Outside Shelter

A man was arrested on Wednesday evening for allegedly using his phone to hit a 48-year-old asylum seeker from Uzbekistan in the head outside of the migrant shelter she was staying, giving her a concussion.

Authorities arrested a man late Wednesday a week after he allegedly hit an asylum seeker in the head with his phone outside a Staten Island migrant shelter.

The NYPD identified Daniel Brongo, 51, as the man who allegedly assaulted Dilfuza Kurbankulova, 48, an asylum seeker from Uzbekistan, outside the shelter where she lives with her daughter, Nafisa Kurbankulova. Brongo has been charged with assault with intent to cause physical injury against Dilfuza. 

Dilfuza and Nafisa said that they were returning home to their shelter in Midland Beach on May 22, which previously operated as the Island Shores Senior Residence, when a man approached the pair on the sidewalk and began to block their path into the shelter. The man, Brongo, was recording with the flash on his camera, and Dilfuza told him in Russian, “Don’t record me,” Nafisa recalled. Dilfuza and her daughter told Documented they both recognized Brongo as a regular attendee of the protests outside the shelter, which Documented covered previously

“This protester just came to her and stood in her way,” Nafisa said. 

Then, as mother and daughter tried to make their way past him, Brongo yelled “Don’t touch me” and brought his hand down forcefully, striking Dilfuza in the head with his phone, according to the family’s account. Dilfuza immediately felt pain, and said she developed symptoms that continue to impact her a week later, including sharp headaches, sensitivity to light, difficulty walking straight and dizziness. 

The day after the attack, Dilfuza went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a “closed head injury,” according to her discharge papers. Dilfuza said she also has a concussion.

She visited a specialist this week, who advised her to get as much rest as possible, she said. “I still feel very bad, I have headaches, I feel dizzy,” Dilfuza said in Russian, which was translated by Nafisa, who speaks English. 

A spokesperson from the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner Public Information said that Brongo was arrested on Wednesday evening on Staten Island, and charged with assault with intent to cause physical injury, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, harassment in the second degree with physical contact, and harassment in the second degree with intent to alarm or annoy. 

Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Social Services, which the Department of Homeless Services falls under, called the incident “unfortunate and horrific.” DSS was working with authorities to obtain more information about the situation, though it took place outside the premises of the shelter, Sharma said.

“We strongly condemn any act of aggression against vulnerable asylum seekers who are trying to stabilize their lives in a new country after a traumatic journey,”  Sharma said in a statement to Documented. “We continue to communicate with the police department to strengthen security around any shelters where residents may be susceptible to instances of harassment.” 

Protests have been ongoing at the site since about September of 2023, when local residents and elected officials discovered the complex would be made into a shelter for migrants. Previously, it was used as a senior living facility — but the city has maintained that the building was empty long before it was considered as a temporary housing site for migrants and that seniors were not pushed out in order to make room for migrants.

Migrants living at Island Shores previously told Documented that the group of protesters made them feel unsafe, yelling and spitting at the migrants as they shuffled in and out of their temporary homes. Demonstrators denied spitting on the migrants, and said they were not aggressive toward the shelter residents. Still, videos on social media and local reporting show protesters playing loud music, shining flashlights through the windows of the facility into the rooms, and blasting megaphones at night next to the shelter. 

Dilfuza and Nafisa, the mother and daughter, recognized Brongo immediately the day of the incident, they said. Nafisa said they have seen him protesting outside the shelter “every single night” for eight months. Brongo had always been “rude” and would yell curse words at them, telling them: “Go to your country, you’re not welcome here,” Nafisa said. The situation had been making them feel vulnerable — even before the alleged assault.

“I didn’t like that,” Nafisa said. “I was crying.”

“I was nervous a lot because he was yelling,” added Dilfuza. “Sometimes, in the night, I couldn’t sleep because they [the protesters] were there.” 

But both mother and daughter were both surprised that the situation turned violent. “I didn’t expect him to hurt me,” Dilfuza said. 

Brongo did not respond to requests for comment by phone and text message. 

Celeste Tesoriero, the family’s immigration attorney, said the incident caused her client “severe pain and discomfort to her for the next several days.” 

Tesoriero has been in constant communication with the family, and said that Nafisa, the daughter, was “really scared” after the incident happened. “This woman [her mother] is her only caretaker,” she said. “I think that she doesn’t feel safe in the shelters.” 

The family arrived in New York in September after going to Turkey and flying to Mexico, then entering into the United States through the CBP One app, according to Tesoriero. They have been staying at Island Shores since then. Nafisa is enrolled in school near the shelter, and Dilfuza works as a home health aide after spending more than 20 years as a nurse with the Uzbek Army. 

Tesoriero said that after the incident, the family received a notice on Tuesday, saying that DHS would be transferring them to another shelter across Staten Island on Thursday due to “safety reasons,” according to a copy of their paperwork provided to Documented. But the family has been urging the city this week to let them stay at the Island Shores facility, since Nafisa’s school and Dilfuza’s work are nearby.

On Thursday, the family piled their suitcases of belongings into Tesoriero’s car. She picked them up, and took them to their new shelter across Staten Island. The drive is only about 25 minutes, but on public transportation, the journey can take more than an hour. 

“I feel bad, nervous, a little bit upset,” Dilfuza said on Thursday, the day of the transfer. “I’m nervous because I don’t want to go to the other shelter and they transferred us without our permission.”

A note from a neuropsychologist at the Staten Island University Hospital says that Dilfuza should “remain in current housing and should not be moved until medically cleared by a physician,” according to the paperwork reviewed by Documented. “She currently needs to heal from her injury.” 

On Thursday, the daughter and mother spent one night at a different hotel shelter in the Travis-Chelsea neighborhood of Staten Island. But on Friday, after Documented contacted the Department of Social Services asking about the transfer, Dilfuza and Nafisa were allowed to return to their original shelter, and DHS arranged for transportation for them back to Island Shores. 

Sharma, the spokesperson for DSS, said that the agency was taking steps to ensure protecting any impacted clients, “which could include a suitable relocation for their safety where they can continue to receive vital support and preserve academic stability for their children.”

Sharma added: “We will continue to fight any form of hatred and wilful disruption of our mission to deliver critical services for anyone in need.”

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