The government said it has received reports that a small fishing boat; the La Belle Michelle, which left the island illegally with 32 passengers last month has been found in Puerto Rico’s waters with one body on board.
The boat carrying 30 West Africans and two Antiguans overturned off the coast of St Kitts and Nevis during an illegal migrant journey to the USVI.
About 14 were rescued by a luxury yacht and the others may have perished. Only three dead bodies were recovered.
Those who were secured are still in St Kitts and Nevis while arrangements are being made to have them returned to Antigua and Barbuda.
“We have indicated to St Kitts and Nevis that we are willing to have them return here. The problem is that they committed criminal acts in St Kitts and Nevis so the treatment they will receive is to be determined by the criminal arm of St Kitts and not by Antigua and Barbuda…including the two Antiguans who captained the vessel,” Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister Lionel Max Hurst.
Meanwhile, Hurst said the government has been in discussions with the West Africans who have been present in Antigua since late December 2022.
“We have amended one of the pieces of legislation that will allow them to receive work permits and the cost would be zero. We are allowing the West Africans to be assimulated in Antigua and Barbuda but they must make an appearance before the Labour Commissioner,” Hurst said.
He also confirmed that the UNHCR and the IOM have concluded a preliminary report which is to be examined by the national agencies that are playing a part in the resettling exercise.
“We have shared the report with the agencies that are connected to this set of circumstances and our expectation is that we would next share them with the media. The idea is to be as transparent as possible…” he added
About 125 Africans were interviewed by the UNHCR and the IOM during the investigations.
More than 900 Africans touched down in Antigua from Nigeria between December and February as tourists. Many of them left both legally and illegally.
The Africans claimed they were duped into coming to the island with a promise to be transported to the United States of America.