Officials in the Ministry of Public Works yesterday found themselves biting off more than they could chew after they evicted about 30 Barbudans – including children attending school – who had been displaced by Hurricane Irma and were taking refuge at the Barrymore Hotel.
In keeping with its promise to change all the locks to have Barbudans vacate the Fort Road premises, government officials arrived at the hotel around midday and began placing eviction notices on all the doors.
A resident, who had just returned from Barbuda after voting in the March 27th council elections, met officials in the process of changing the locks at the place she called home.
She told OBSERVER media that despite being told previously by Philmore Mullin, Director of the National Offices of Disaster Services (NODS), to contact the Public Works Ministry concerning her eviction, the officials informed her yesterday that the NODS director was the person in charge.
“What is this? A merry-go-round? I came to them because Mulllin told me to talk to Public Works, because he has nothing to do with [the eviction] but today they are telling me to talk to Mullin,” she said.
After a few more verbal exchanges, including expletives, police officers were summoned by the officials to remove the woman from the premises.
According to the Barbudan, the police then entered the building and began to manhandle her, pulling and throwing her outside.
When she began to resist the officers, one government official, according to her, argued that the Barbudan was the agitator and claimed that she assaulted police officers.
“So, I was here [upset] and told them [some expletive words], and they began to pull me out. When I pushed back because one of the officers had struck me, one official tried to tell me I assaulted the officers,” the woman said.
Another Barbudan, who works for the Immigration Department, said while she knew that living at the hotel was temporary, she did not expect to be continuously harassed by authorities.
“Over and over, it is like nothing can be resolved. The
had placed me here [in the hotel] because they claimed that they do not have any money. But I am still harassed again and again. We were not placed in a five-star hotel, but I make the best of it.
“I know I have to go back to Barbuda one day, but until then I do not deserve to be harassed every day,” she said, citing the lack of water and electrical services to many households in Barbuda.
“Everybody can go over to Barbuda to see the current conditions. My house recently had its roof repaired, but we still have no water and electricity. The office for the Immigration Department remain unrepaired in Barbuda, which is why I am now working in Antigua,” she said.
She added that many Barbudans at the hotel have similar issues and were struggling to provide for both themselves and their dependent children or family members.
She told OBSERVER media that the Barbudans must often rely on each other and help from others daily.
The Barbudans, who occupy only a few rooms in the hotel, questioned why they were being evicted from Barrymore when other rooms were available for the use by the foreign nationals, which was the stated reason for their eviction.
OBSERVER media also spoke to another resident, who stated that some Barbudans need more time to find proper housing.
She added that she was preparing to return to the sister isle next week with her young son, and a couple more days before placing her on the street would not hurt.
“I am saying that if they give us more days because houses are not available to rent, and you cannot put people on the street like dogs. I am returning home next week with my son – who has challenges – as my family remain unsuccessful in finding us a home. A couple of days would not kill anyone,” she said.
She also added that people were angry that locks were changed while many of the Barbudans, who work in government services, were at their jobs.
“My problem is that you changed the locks when persons are not here. I understand it is government property, but they should have handled this professionally,” she said.
The Barrymore Hotel issue remains a hot topic, after repeated deadlines had passed without actions and several government officials made statements on the matter.
Recently, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, on his radio show, told listeners that officials from NODS and Ministry of Public Works should treat Barbudans at the hotel, who were in a challenging position, with ‘soft hands’.
Minister of Works Lennox Weston told reporters that Barbudan had until March to leave the premises, but no action was taken by the government immediately after that deadline.
An OBSERVER reporter tried to ask another individual – who arrived on the scene in a government vehicle and was seen speaking with a police officer – for their side to today’s incident, but was promptly dismissed and told to contact the Permanent Secretary.