Antigua and Barbuda has said that it can locate the West Africans, who were brought to the twin islands from Nigeria via chartered Antigua Airways flights recently.
There were reports that some of the Africans are missing and may have sought transport off Antigua to neighbouring countries and the United States.
Immigration officials held discussions with government members yesterday and a note from the meeting said: “The Cabinet was informed that the 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.”
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told members of the media today that approximately 637 of the 911 Africans remain on the island.
Nicholas said the government is weighing its options to return the Africans to their homeland or make them legal residents.
The question was raised regarding offering protections to the Africans who may seek asylum due to issues in their homeland.
“I don’t know if asylum is being considered at this stage. The question would be if persons have economic difficulties returning to their jurisdiction then the options for the government would be to arrange an aircraft to take them back. Alternately, if they have pleaded hardships and would like to remain in the jurisdiction then that is a consideration that we would look at in terms of what can be done to assimilate them into the population,” he said.
Nicholas says the government takes some responsibility for the situation that has developed but he maintained that having flights between the Caribbean and Africa will have benefits.
The minister noted that there is “no harm done” in keeping some of the West Africans in Antigua as he said many might have skills and knowledge the country could use.
Nicholas expressed his hope that Antigua Airways could resume operations between St John’s and Lagos, Nigeria to connect the Caribbean with Africa.
The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) halted Antigua Airways’ charter operations last month because it did not comply with regulatory requirements.
The embattled airline had been operating a charter between Antigua and Nigeria on November 1, 2022.
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