The government says it will bear no responsibility for Tuesday’s boat accident that claimed the lives of at least 16 Cameroonians.
Those who died when the boat smuggling them from Antigua to St Thomas capsized off St Kitts were Africans living in Antigua.
Head of Immigration Katrina Yearwood confirmed that those on board the La Belle Michelle II arrived on the Antigua Airways flight sometime in December.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas was asked directly whether he the government feels responsible for the latest ordeal.
“The fact that they, of their own volition, seemingly would have decided to embark on this initiative, the government can take no responsibility,” Nicholas told reporters.
He said while Antigua Airways had a role in stranding the number of Africans in Antigua, there was a second operator who had no prior engagement with the government but exploited the opportunity for establishing a charter because of the route already established between Antigua and Nigeria.
But many, including and especially the Opposition are blaming the government, suggesting that the influx of Africans; several hundreds of them, was part of the government’s failed agreement with Antigua Airways.
In a swift response, the United Progressive Party said the government appears to be attempting to wash its hands on the matter.
“The United Progressive Party categorically condemns the Gaston Browne Administration’s assertion that it accepts no responsibility for the West African migrants lost in the boat tragedy…”
“These persons were here, in Antigua, because the Administration—by its own admission – was duped into allowing three flights to land here without the authorization of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority; afforded these unknown “visitors/refugees/opportunistic migrants” – all descriptions of the Prime Minister – visa waivers; and, at last, count, was making arrangements to regularize their status and provide them work after a skills audit was undertaken”, the statement said
The statement also claimed that those who attempted to leave and were turned back were not detained by Immigration — even when they were shown to be traveling on fake documents — but were reintegrated until they could leave by other means!
“How, now, in the wake of this tragedy, can the Administration distance itself from what has happened to these human beings who never set out to stay here in the first place, but were forced to because of Government’s foul-up? Blood is on the hands of the Browne Administration”, the UPP statement added.