The Leadership of the United Progressive Party (UPP) is calling on the Gaston Browne Cabinet to halt its unilateral plans to regularize the status of more than 600 West Africans “stranded” here with absolutely no consultation with the people or their elected representatives.
In a press statement issued this afternoon, February 2, the UPP says that – like thousands of citizens and residents – it demands 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 says the Party 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 statement says.
“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,” the statement continues.
“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,” the UPP insists.
“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,” the main Opposition party says.
Posing a pertinent question to the Cabinet, the UPP asks: “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?”
While the Government appears to believe it has certain obligations to these visitors, the UPP says it “is curious to know whether the investor known to us as ‘Marvelous Mike’ has no responsibilities for the hundreds of his countrymen left stranded here?”
Amidst the increasing confusion about the situation, the Party is urging 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.”
News of the Cabinet’s pending decision on the Africans’ status has elicited mixed reactions.
While some residents see the situation as the solution to a humanitarian crisis, others say that charity begins at home and Antigua and Barbuda already has enough problems that are not being addressed. Accordingly, they believe the visitors should be sent back.