By CMC News
The Antigua and Barbuda government says the West African nationals, who are among persons missing and feared dead when a 30-foot vessel sank off the coast of St. Kitts earlier this week “were not “trafficked migrants”, as some have wrongfully claimed.
“In fact, over the three-month period of the migrants’ stay, attempts were made to integrate these hapless West Africans into the Antigua and Barbuda social fabric. The invitation to the UNHCR and the IOM (International Organization for Migration) by the Government are clear signals of the willingness on the administration’s part to seek an amicable settlement of the issue,” according to a statement issued following the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The statement noted that Cabinet had met with senior law enforcement agency officials including the Commissioner of Police “for a briefing on the subject of the unlawful and tragic attempt to smuggle a group of West Africans out of the state and into another Caribbean country.”
“It was agreed by all that since the West Africans entered the country on their own volition as tourists, were processed by Immigration Authorities upon landing, and were not seeking to evade law enforcement,” the statement added.
Chief Immigration Officer, Katrina Yearwood, told a news conference on Thursday that approximately 200 West Africans have left here legally since late January, with an estimated 400 still on the island.
Hopes of finding more survivors from Tuesday’s boating tragedy have dwindled significantly even as family members urged the authorities in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts-Nevis to immediately release the names of those who survived so as give them closure.
The Antigua and Barbuda government has said it would launch a “full investigation” into the circumstances that led to the sinking of the 30-foot vessel, 40 miles northwest of Antigua and 12 nautical miles south of Conaree in St Kitts, with several local and African nationals on board.
The Chief of Defence Staff of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF), Colonel Telbert Benjamin, said the “vessel went down in relatively deep water, and so recovery … might be a bit of a challenge”.
Three people have been confirmed dead and 15 others were rescued on Tuesday, and the Cabinet statement said 16 people “are presumed dead since they are missing” adding “attempts are being made to identify the cadavers taken to St. Kitts, by way of photos to other members of the group of migrants”.
The statement noted that for more than five years, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had agreed to attempt the establishment of an air bridge between Africa and the Caribbean.