CARIB | May 4, 2023

Antigua, St Kitts at diplomatic odds over fate of Cameroonians involved in boating tragedy

/ Our Today

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Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

Authorities in Antigua and neighbouring St Kitts are at diplomatic loggerheads over the fate of more than a dozen Cameroon citizens who were rescued by passing vessels when their vessel capsized off St Kitts in late March.

The 14 West Africans were part of an Antigua-based group, which boarded a dangerously overcrowded smuggling vessel that should have taken them to the US Virgin Islands from where they would have creatively made their way to mainland America on flights that are treated as domestic, rather than international.

But the plan as to how the rescued bunch would have been treated by Antigua has gone awry as Antigua says it no longer sees the need to have them repatriated back to the island.

Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Terrance Drew. (Photo: Facebook @drterrancedrew)

Tragedy struck on Tuesday (March 28) when the severely overloaded vessel sank, killing about 15 of them, only three bodies have since been found.

A total of 14 were rescued by passing vessels and taken to St Kitts where they remain awaiting repatriation to Antigua as the government there had promised.

However, Antiguan Prime Minister, Gaston Browne has announced that he was going back on the promise to take back the Cameroonians, because he alleged that they sooner rather than later try again to leave the island for so-called greener pastures.

His announcement has caused severe anger in St Kitts where authorities have said that they will still try to persuade Browne to change his mind.

“Why bring them back when they are likely to smuggle out of the country again,” Browne said in a publication.

In April, nine of the 14 Cameroon nationals escaped from the detention facility on the twin-island territory. Four of them were found the following day on Thursday (April 27), while five still remain at large in St Kitts.

Authorities in Basseterre, the capital, said they are following international protocols in dealing with groups such as the Cameroonians even while clinging to hope that Antigua will keep its promise.

“The government of St Kitts and Nevis continues to pursue workable and diplomatic solutions as it is duty bound so to do,” said a national security ministry statement.

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