Antigua and Barbuda Government invites UN agencies to assist in dealing with migrants from West Africa

The Antigua and Barbuda government is seeking the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in dealing with the situation regarding migrants from West Africa.

Government spokesman, Lionel “Max” Hurst said representatives of the two international organizations will be here to probe the situation and make recommendations. Last month, the government said that 637 of the more than 900 people who touched down between November and January remained in Antigua. Many of them are Cameroonians fleeing a bloody conflict back home.

But it is unclear how many of them are seeking asylum having arrived here on Antigua Airways or other chartered airlines.

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“The Cabinet…instructed Ambassador Daven Joseph to construct some guidelines by which both UNHCR and IOM could operate in Antigua and Barbuda,” he said, adding that it is also hoped that their report “reflects the reality here for the West African migrants.

“Again it is in order to ensure we can provide them with the kind of help that would be required without the expenditure or the resources of the government of Antigua and Barbuda or at least much of the resources of the government of Antigua and Barbuda,” Hurst said.

Last month, the Gaston Browne government said that the passengers who had arrived here were to be well-off citizens of Nigeria and neighboring countries who wished to travel to the Caribbean as tourists.

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It said then that it had been informed that “visitors remaining in Antigua can be located in several small hotels and guest houses across the island.

“An offer to return them to their country is to be made, though many are likely to choose to stay, it was reported. Some arrangement may likely be made to ensure that their status is legal,” the government statement added.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters that the government had decided while the West Africans will not be afforded local citizenship, those who choose to remain here could be offered residency and work permits.

The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) had called for a Commission of Inquiry to determine whether the authorities here are engaged in human trafficking after supporters staged a protest action against the government’s decision to legalize the status of hundreds of African migrants.



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