ANTIGUA & BARBUDA- There was a protest on Tuesday by the United Progressive Party (UPP) against a Cabinet announcement that arrangements will be made to assist West Africans who arrived via chartered flights to become legal residents.
In response to the arrival of several flights from Nigeria, carrying mainly Nigerian and Cameroonian passengers, it was revealed that many of the visitors needed refuge from the civil war in Cameroon.
Approximately 637 of the more than 900 people who touched down between November and January remain in Antigua, the government reported last week.
The number of asylum seekers who came aboard Antigua Airways or other chartered airlines that Antigua Airways officials claim mirror their operations is unclear.
At the scene of Tuesday’s protest, Observer spoke with UPP Political Leader, Jamale Pringle.
In his remarks, the UPP Political Leader said, “we are making our voices heard, asking for the government to call an inquiry into Antigua Airways and this situation where we are seeing over 600 persons on the ground.”
“We sympathise with the Africans because this is not what they bargained for; some said they were moving on to the United States, but they are stuck here in Antigua.”
He added, “the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority has advised the government to suspend these flights, and we want to know what information they got why this was necessary.”
According to Pringle, his party plans to disseminate several letters to international agencies requesting assistance.
“We are reaching out to the Governor General, and we are still researching as to all the different agencies that have to do with human rights because this is a situation that we need to get clarity,” he said.
Upon being asked about the party’s solution to the saga, Pringle said the government needed to provide more information before any policy could be formulated regarding African migrants.
“This is the first process before establishing a position because we do not know and we cannot just jump up and say we are going to take this approach not having all the information before us to make a decision on what is our next move,” Pringle said.
A number of protestors, meanwhile, explained why they attended yesterday’s protest.
A protester from Dominica with Antiguan citizenship said Prime Minister Gaston Browne was “a liar” and she wanted him out of office.
“The Africans just come and [are getting] passport or citizenship or whatever, and people here for how many years and cannot get anything,” she said.
The UPP candidate Pearl Quinn-Williams stated, “we believe that it is important for us to show our displeasure with how this whole situation has been handled”.
According to Anthony Smith Jr, the UPP representative for All Saints West, he has no issues with Africans, but he also believes the government should clarify the situation further as there are growing links between the Caribbean and Africa.
“I want to categorically make it clear that I have no issue with our African brothers and sisters; Africa is a continent that I have a lot of respect for…however, we have to look at this story in its full context.
“The government said to the people, we are going to be launching Antigua Airways, and people had their doubts; the government said that we would be getting rich tourists who were going to invest in Antigua and Barbuda…when we look at the full picture, there are too many holes,” Smith concluded.
Several local media outlets reported friction yesterday between police and protestors. According to Police Inspector Frankie Thomas, the event was peaceful and had caused “little untoward action”.