Cabinet halts chartered flights out of West Africa, leaving local residents wondering about the fate of stranded Africans

With the reported halt of chartered flights from West Africa, residents are asking what will become of the African nationals now stranded in Antigua.

Although many of the Cameroonians and Nigerians who were brought here over the past two months were promised onward connection to other destinations, they are complaining that they have been unable to leave the island.

And with scores of them running out of money and having to be assisted by locals, it is believed they may want to return home.

The decision to halt flights by the so-called Antigua Airways was taken by the new Cabinet during its first weekly sitting on Wednesday, January 25.  However, there was no indication of when they will resume – which makes the situation of the now-resident Africans even more uncertain,

According to the Executive, “The rules governing the member-countries of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) are very strict [and] Antigua Airways had not complied fully with all of them.

“The organizers have pledged to fix all the deficiencies before resuming their service across the Atlantic from the Motherland,” the Cabinet Notes of this week add.

However, the Cabinet has known, since last year, that the airline was unable to meet the requirements of the civil aviation authorities.

In December 2022, Government spokesperson Lionel “Max” Hurst confirmed that Antigua Airways was unable to offer scheduled service between Antigua and Barbuda and Nigeria because it had not received an Air Operator Certificate from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority.

Reportedly, at that time, ECCAA was requiring far more information than had been forthcoming from the airline, following submissions for the certificate.

However, Antigua Airways reportedly was moving towards meeting those guidelines so that it could become a regular carrier, Hurst indicated, then.

In the meantime, the Browne Administration said, Antigua Airways would continue to operate as a charter service between the V.C. Bird International Airport and Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

Contradicting this decision, however, Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said – earlier this week – that he would recommend the immediate suspension of flights from Africa.

He further suggested the cancellation of all dealings with the entities responsible for flights transporting Africans to Antigua and Barbuda.

Benjamin was confident, however, that the concept of making Africa a tourism hub for Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the region would materialize.

Meanwhile, the attorney-general says he is disappointed with how the now-stranded Africans have been received, given that other tourists come here and move around with knapsacks on their backs without anyone making a fuss.

With respect to the accusations of human trafficking that have followed the arrival of hundreds of Africans here, Benjamin seemed taken aback at the notion.

He denies the allegation and says the Government has not been notified of any such concerns by any international agency.

Many residents, in turn, are accusing Benjamin of hypocrisy.  They point out that he is not only a member of the Cabinet, but the Prime Minister’s deputy, and would have been privy to the shortcomings of the airline and the abandonment of the Africans.

Several persons say the Browne Administration has gotten exactly what it wanted out of the flights from West Africa; and now that the elections are over, it has no use for the venture.

Contradictory reports about the country’s involvement in the project have been given.  At various times, it was announced that the Government had a 20% stake in the airline and that the venture was being treated as a CIP project.   

Subsequently, it was said that Antigua and Barbuda has no ownership at all and the venture is strictly private.  

The flights and the cargo they carried have been the subject of great speculation, with recently leaked documents suggesting the airline was a conduit to bring “dirty” money out of Africa for laundering through local banks.