The United Progressive Party (UPP) held a protest yesterday against a Cabinet announcement that arrangements are to be made to assist West Africans who arrived in the country via chartered flights to gain legal status.
Following the arrival of several flights from Nigeria, carrying passengers mainly from Nigeria and Cameroon, it was revealed that many of the visitors were not simple tourists but were seeking refuge from the civil war in Cameroon.
Government said last week that 637 of the more than 900 people who touched down between November and January remained in Antigua.
It is unclear how many of these asylum seekers came aboard Antigua Airways or other chartered airlines which the government and Antigua Airways officials claim mirrored their operations.
Observer spoke to Political Leader of the UPP, Jamale Pringle, at the scene of Tuesday’s protest.
“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,” the UPP Political Leader remarked.
“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.
“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,” he added.
Pringle revealed that his party planned to disseminate several letters to various international agencies requesting assistance on this issue.
“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.
When asked about the party’s solution to the saga, Pringle indicated that further information from the government needed to be made public before any policy in regard to the African migrants should be made.
“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.
Meanwhile, several protestors explained their reasons for attending yesterday’s event.
One protester, who said that she was from Dominica but had Antiguan citizenship, expressed that 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.
UPP candidate Pearl Quinn-Williams explained that “we believe that it is important for us to show our displeasure with how this whole situation has been handled”.
Meanwhile, UPP representative for All Saints West, Anthony Smith Jr, remarked that he had no issues with the Africans and said it was a good thing that there are growing links between the Caribbean and Africa, but also said the situation called for further clarity by the government.
“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.
Some local media reported friction between police and protestors yesterday. Police spokesman Inspector Frankie Thomas told Observer there had been “no major incidents” and “little untoward action” during the event.