While several of the African refugees are reportedly employed at various businesses in Antigua and Barbuda, the government said there has been no formal request for asylum.
The government has said that they are willing to provide legal status for the West Africans who are currently on the island; reportedly over 600 of them.
The West Africans have been crying out to allow them to stay on the island, claiming that they were fleeing a civil war in Cameroon and repatriating them could do more harm than good.
But Information Minister Melford Nicholas said that he is not aware that any of the West Africans have made any official asylum request.
“Not to my knowledge…They are here and they are making friends, they are being assimilated, but to the extent that anyone has come forward and made any application for asylum I guess it’s just as a result of the comfort that they feel and no one is pushing them to that particular boundary – but there has not been to the best of my knowledge. Neither Foreign Affairs nor the Minister of Legal Affairs has indicated to the Cabinet that they receive any official application for asylum,” Nicholas said at the weekly Cabinet press conference.
Nicholas added that granting the refuges legal status will not happen overnight, as they must go through all legal processes before that can be done
“Even though the modality may be set in place for them to have legal status, there is still going to have to be the review of every individual to determine that we know from whence they came, who they are and to ensure that we are not dealing with any falsities and that whole due diligence process to accommodate them”
“The Department of Immigration will have a significant amount of work to do to be able to go through that whole scrutiny of the individuals whom we may accord residency, but it’s a process that I imagine once it starts is going to take a while for them to develop the experience to be able to know the nuances between the various persons who have presented themselves to be accorded residency,” said.
While the majority of these men and women may choose to return here, Nicholas said if anyone would wish to return to their homeland, plans are underway to arrange a charter flight with assistance from the Antigua Nigeria Chamber of Commerce.
“We have already had contact with the people from Antigua Airways and even the president of the Antigua Nigeria Chamber of Commerce that they are prepared to facilitate a return flight for those who would wish to go back,” Nicholas said.