GG says Gov’t will not deport stranded West Africans but is looking for a reasonable solution to ‘this complex challenge’

The West Africans now stranded in Antigua and Barbuda apparently will not face deportation, even though many reportedly are living here illegally, having been denied extensions by the Immigration Department.

In Monday’s Speech from the Throne, Governor-General Sir Rodney Williams said the Gaston Browne Administration had taken note of a recent High Court ruling in Trinidad & Tobago, where that government has been prevented from deporting several West Africans to their homeland.

Sir Rodney says the Browne Administration further noted that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had played a significant role in stopping the deportations.

He says the Antigua & Barbuda Government is therefore required to take the High Court decision (as precedence) into consideration, as well as the role of the UNHCR, before making a final decision on the future of the West Africans now here.

According to Sir Rodney, the Government is committed to protecting all residents from exploitation and harsh treatment and would never allow the West Africans to reside illegally “in the shadows.”   

Nor would the Government allow them to be subjected to exploitation and harsh treatment by those who may seek to create victims, he says.

The Governor-General notes that the Administration, over the past eight years, has extended amnesty four times to immigrants who failed to maintain lawful status; therefore, no foreign national, except for criminals, should fear deportation.

Sir Rodney claims, too, that the Administration has demonstrated care and concern for the more vulnerable, defenseless, and persecuted.

This claim, however, has generated significant criticism from nationals and residents, many of them senior citizens whose Social Security pensions have been routinely late for years now. 

“If Government is looking to help the vulnerable,” a 76-year-old woman tells REAL News, “tell them ‘Look me!’”

One mother adds that even her children are being taken advantage of by the Browne Administration, given the number of times she has been unable to receive their child-maintenance payments from the court in a timely manner.

Yet another resident, this time a man in his 80s, says he has been “getting knock-bout from Board of Guardians” too often and too long now, with payments being months behind, leaving him without the means to purchase certain medicines.

Several persons tell REAL News that it appears they might be better off claiming refugee status, rather than citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda.

Ironically, the Governor-General notes that Antigua and Barbuda “is a melting pot of cultures, with a significant number of our adult population comprising citizens from other countries.”

Meanwhile, he states that the new source of visitors from West Africa, who began coming here in November 2022, should have been bona fide tourists.

According to his speech, the Administration’s initial understanding was that these persons were visitors; however, it has now become apparent that some may be seeking asylum in the Caribbean, including in Antigua and Barbuda.

Therefore, Sir Rodney says, Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin is leading efforts to find a reasonable solution to what he terms “this complex challenge.”

There have been calls for a public inquiry into the arrival of the West Africans on board the purported Antigua Airways, in which the Government allegedly has some interest, since it conferrred 10 CIP files on the so-called investors.

However, all four arrivals here were via chartered flights, with the Cabinet now claiming to be aware only of the first – the other three allegedly having been copy-cats of the original.

Although Information Minister Melford Nicholas recently claimed the Administration had been duped, the Executive has not said by whom it was deceived, nor the legal measures it plans to take against the alleged copycats.

Many locals have branded the venture as “migrant trafficking,” since the mostly Cameroonian visitors have admitted that Antigua and Barbuda was merely to have been a transshipment point to other countries, including parts of South America and, ultimately, the United States.