In an apparent attempt to discredit the allegations of migrant trafficking that surround the hundreds of West Africans stranded here, Prime Minister Gaston Browne says Antigua and Barbuda is seeking to do more business with the African continent, including people-to-people exchanges.
While presenting the Appropriations Bill, 2023, in Parliament on Thursday, March 2, Browne spoke about forging a relationship with the African Export Import (Afrexim) Bank, saying this country has an exciting opportunity to forge a meaningful partnership with the bank.
A cooperation agreement with the financial institution is to be executed; and this, according to the prime minister, will provide the region the opportunity to access US$1.5 billion in funding for development.
The Cabinet and representatives of the Afrexim Bank recently held discussions, during which several projects were considered for implementation.
Browne says his administration will leverage this new affiliation to explore support for infrastructure development, investment in tourism, establishment of an agro-industrial park, and the re-capitalisation of LIAT.
However, glossing over the reality of the stranded Africans and the calls for a public inquiry, Browne says now is the time for Africans, and he scoffs at allegations that the offence of human trafficking has taken place.
However, in several radio interviews, even the West Africans, themselves, have admitted that they expected Antigua and Barbuda to be merely their transshipment point to other destinations, such as North and South America.
Many have shared their desire to leave this country, but are unable to do so because of restrictions on their travel, while others have been turned back by neighbouring islands.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet announced on Thursday, March 2, that a preliminary report on the West Africans who have been here since December has been compiled.
According to the previous day’s Cabinet Notes, “the Cabinet held an intense discussion on the likely future of the hapless migrants who have found themselves stranded in Antigua.”
But, again, the Executive appears to be relying on a Trinidad & Tobago High Court decision that has denied that government the right to deport several Cameroon nationals to their homeland.
The Cabinet claims that only a few of the “visitors” in Antigua have indicated a desire to return home.