ANTIGUA | UPP concerned over Gov't plans to legalize African Refugees

ANTIGUA | UPP concerned over Gov't plans to legalize African Refugees

ST.JOHN'S Antigua, February 2, 2023 -  The United Progressive Party (UPP) wants the Gaston Browne administration to halt unilateral plans to legalize the status of more than 600 West Africans “stranded” in Antigua since late last year.

In a statement  on Thursday, the UPP says like thousands of citizens and residents, they demand to know who has offered the African visitors a choice; who has reported that they are likely to choose to stay; and what arrangement, exactly, will be made to ensure their status is legal?

“The UPP and the public cannot accept that the Cabinet was unaware of “the circumstances under which the Antigua Airways flights were conceived and originated.” After all, it was the Cabinet who announced this arrangement to the public and advised that Antigua and Barbuda had invested in the project via the issue of CIP passport files and was eligible to receive a percentage of the profits,” the UPP said.

In addition, the UPP said after having received four plane loads of these visitors – whom the Immigration Department issued visas on arrival – we will not accept that the Administration was duped into accepting hundreds of visitors who were not the “wealthy” investors promised by the Cabinet.

In order to establish the commercial viability of the route, Antigua Airways had chosen to arrange chartered flights to the island from AfricaIn order to establish the commercial viability of the route, Antigua Airways had chosen to arrange chartered flights to the island from Africa“Now that it has been revealed that Antigua and Barbuda was merely a transit point and that these “visitors” will not be allowed to travel onward to other countries, the Administration cannot make a unilateral decision to legalize their stay. It is bitterly ironic that, while the Cabinet requires more discussion on repealing the work-permit requirement for already resident nationals of the Dominican Republic and CARICOM, the Executive is considering legalizing the status of itinerant visitors with questionable financial support,” he added.

The UPP is also asking “has the Administration considered the implications such an action would have on employment opportunities, the housing market, the healthcare system, social integration, and the likely influx of their families”?

Other than the obligations the Government appears to believe it has to these visitors, the UPP questioned “whether the investor known to us as “Marvelous Mike” has no responsibilities for the hundreds of his countrymen left stranded here?”

“We urge the Cabinet to come clean on the genesis of this operation; to level with the people of Antigua and Barbuda; and, ultimately, to make other arrangements that will not bring further hardship to an already suffering and over-burdened population and an under-performing Administration”.

Several  flights from The Cameroons transported hundreds of Africans to Antigua late last year, leaving them stranded on the island, with some having no arrangement for accommodation.

Minister Melford Nicholas told the Cabinet press briefing that the government was mindful of the challenges that these men and women are facing and plans are underway to repatriate them

“It is recognized that there are several persons who had come on earlier flights who are still in Antigua and may need to be returned to their respective jurisdictions. 

The Cameroonians have said that they were tricked into believing that once they get into Antigua and Barbuda they would be able to get to the US.

Some of these men and women say they spent over $5000 to get to the island on the chartered flight.

According to Nicholas “to establish the commercial viability of the route, Antigua Airways had chosen to arrange chartered flights to the island and according to Nicholas, their efforts were imitated by another operator who arranged another charter outside of the knowledge of the government.

“Based on intelligence reports that we have, the objective of that other charter he said was to use Antigua as a stepping stone for persons going to other jurisdictions and that has been drawn to our attention and accordingly we have made a move to suspect the routes,” Nicholas said.

“As far as the persons who are transiting Antigua to other jurisdictions, our information is that they were heading to South America to get access to the United States. This was not the objective intention of the government…we would want to act in collaboration with our neighbors in the Caribbean….we have to do the responsible thing and curtail the use of the chartered flight” he said

All this comes as the cabinet has decided to place on hold, all chartered flights from Africa, saying that the airline had not complied fully with Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation rules.


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