ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), says it will on Tuesday stage a protest against the government’s decision to legalize the status of hundreds of African migrants who traveled to the island late last year from West Africa.
Cabinet last week said that it had discussed the treatment to be meted out to the visitors who arrived on charters from West Africa.
“The Cabinet examined the circumstances under which the Antigua Airways flights were conceived and originated. The passengers were to be well-off citizens of Nigeria and neighboring countries who wished to travel to the Caribbean as tourists,” a statement issued following the Cabinet meeting noted.
It said a well-established carrier known as Air Peace had requested to commence a regular service between Nigeria and Antigua, but that the airline chose to fly to Jamaica instead since the East Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) license for Antigua Airways was taking “a long time.
“The Cabinet was informed that the visitors remaining in Antigua can be located in several small hotels and guest houses across the island. It was reported that an offer to return them to their country is to be made, though many are likely to choose to stay. Some arrangement may likely be made to ensure their status is legal,” the Cabinet statement added.
But the UPP, which lost the January 18 general election by a nail-biting 9-8 margin, said the protest would be held outside the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday.
“In Antigua and Barbuda, the people are facing a terrible human trafficking tragedy imposed on our West African brothers and sisters [from] Nigeria and Cameroon, and the United Progressive Party thinks that a lot of exploitation has happened in this case,” said UPP candidate and radio talk show host, Franz De Freitas.
“We believe that the solution to the self-imposed problem of the [Antigua Barbuda Labour Party] … is something that the people should not live with and cannot tolerate,” he added.
In a statement last week, the UPP questioned the decision taken by the government and cited national security concerns and the implications for the labor market.
DeFreitas said that while the UPP has no issues with providing solutions to the problem, claims of insensitivity to the plights of the West African migrants were unfounded, adding, “there are better ways to address the issue.”
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a post-Cabinet press conference that an estimated 911 persons had arrived here on different charter flights from Nigeria and that 274 have since left the island.
The UPP is calling on the government to be transparent on the issue of Antigua Airways and “make other arrangements that will not bring further hardship to an already suffering and over-burdened population.”