Officials from the Ministry of Works and the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) embarked on the process to evict Barbudans from the Barrymore Hotel yesterday by changing the locks on several buildings.
“All the locks on the southern side [were] changed and the occupants have been asked to get in touch with the Permanent Secretary of Public Works to see what accommodation can be worked out between them,” the Director of NODS, Philmore Mullin, said.
Mullin said that having gone through a list, a decision was made based on evidence that “some of them [Barbudans] are working for Central Government so it’s not an issue where they are working for [the Barbuda Council] and not getting paid on time”.
He said that the Ministry even found a place for a man who said he didn’t like it and that he had found an apartment elsewhere. However, the man was found to be still residing at the Barrymore facility.
When OBSERVER media visited the scene, some of the Barbudans were particularly upset because they said they had only been given two days to pack their things since they were handed eviction notices on Saturday, to vacate the premises by yesterday.
Mullin addressed this claim saying “those of us who work pay our own way so it is unfair for them to have the belief that they should be there forever”.
A few of the residents also complained that they have had a hard time finding accommodation because landlords in Antigua have turned them away, stating that they do not rent to Barbudans.
On the other hand, other Barbudans told OBSERVER media that they do not have a problem leaving Barrymore.
Since the devastation of Barbuda by Hurricane Irma in 2017, some Barbudans were relocated to the facility located on Fort Road for an allotted time which was extended due the extent of repairs that are still needed in Barbuda.
Two weeks ago, the Minister of Works, Lennox Weston, said government was giving the 30 or so Barbudans currently living at the Barrymore Hotel until March 27th to find alternative accommodations.
A week later, in a follow-up done by OBSERVER media, a Barbudan residing at the Hotel, Hesketh Daniel, showed reporters a text message purportedly by Prime Minister Gaston Browne which stated that his administration would not forcibly remove Barbudans from the Barrymore Hotel.
Just this weekend, Browne said he asked officials at the NODS and the Ministry of Works to take a gentler approach when dealing with struggling Barbudans who continue to reside at the Barrymore.
On his radio station, Browne said some Barbudans who took refuge at the hotel after Hurricane Irma, have genuine issues which require a softer approach.
“I have asked the officials at NODS and [Ministry of] Public Works to use soft hands on the Barbudans, recognizing that some of them have genuine needs for accommodation,” he said.
However, Browne said that those persons who are taking advantage of the situation will be evicted from the property.
“There are some who can afford to pay rent and I think that Public Works should insist that they should vacate the premises. Those who are opportunistically taking residency there – working people who can pay rent and want to live in government accommodation for free – have to fear,” he said.
Browne reiterated that the test for any person currently at the Barrymore Hotel will be based on need.
“The test is whether or not you can pay [rent] and if you are a working man or working woman, just like any other Antiguan and Barbudan, they must pay too,” he said.
The government is nudging the Barbudans to expedite the renovation of the facility which will be used to accommodate international workers and trainers who come to assist with various projects in the country, as well as to provide practical training for young hoteliers.