Over 600 Cameroonian migrants, who thought they were transiting in Antigua before making their way to South America and then the United States, have been left stranded on the Caribbean island. In June, Cameroonians in the United States were granted temporary protected status.
According to BBC, many of the stranded migrants never knew the island existed before they were left to their own fate after they landed. The migrants were said to have been left stranded on the island as a result of what seems to be a people-smuggling operation.
The charter flights the desperate migrants boarded were promoted on social media by sham tour companies that claimed they were also going to arrange immigration logistics for the migrants. The charter flights cost some of the migrants $6,000.
Some of the migrants said they thought they were going to spend a few days in Antigua before continuing the journey. But they have since been left stranded on the Caribbean island with little money to facilitate the rest of their journey.
This incident comes after the government of Antigua and Barbuda’s efforts to provide a direct air route from the Caribbean nation to Central Africa, BBC reported. But the charter flights that have since arrived have carried several Cameroonians fleeing the chaos in their home country. Official figures reveal there are currently 637 Central Africans on the island.
“The government needs to resolve this matter both for the poor people of Cameroon and for the poor people of Antigua,” Makeda Mikael, an aviation entrepreneur, told the news outlet. “Opening up the mid-Atlantic as a migrant route could ruin tourism in the Caribbean.”
The twin-island nation’s government initially intended to repatriate the migrants. But it said it had reversed the decision because of humanitarian reasons. The country’s information minister, Melford Nicholas, said the refugees will undergo a skills audit to “determine the benefits” of granting them permission to stay.
“As the economy continues to expand, we’re going to need additional skills,” he said “We will give them accommodation and find a way to give them legal status here.” Nicholas also said it was his hope that Antiguans would “embrace and have an open heart” to the Africans.
Elsewhere in Trinidad, five Cameroonian migrants said to be escaping persecution similarly ended up in the Caribbean nation. How they got to the island has not been established. And though they were initially set to be repatriated, a last-minute court injunction on February 16 put a hold on that after the UN Refugee Agency intervened, BBC reported.
As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, the current challenges in Cameroon date back to pre-independence when the country was formed by combining two British and French colonial territories, with the bigger territory being the French.
But ever since the two territories became one after independence in 1961, the English-speaking people have been complaining that they are politically and economically disadvantaged. At the time, the English-speaking region was then given two options by the UN; that is, either to join Nigeria or Cameroon as a federation.
Many feel that the UN should have given the English-speaking people the option of gaining independence and standing on their own. That missing option has contributed to some of the disturbances being experienced in the country.
The quest for independence for Southern Cameroons started in October 2016 when lawyers and teachers took to the streets to complain about economic injustice as well as discrimination. But the situation has now escalated into violence with multiple armed separatist groups currently operating in the country’s Anglophone regions.
“It’s definitely one of the worst human rights situations we are covering in the African continent,” Amnesty International researcher Fabien Offner told BBC.