By Robert A. Emmanuel
Dominicans displaced after the devastation of Hurricane David in 1979 will receive a special protected status from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Last week, the Cabinet issued a statement noting its “earlier decision that children who were brought to Antigua in 1979 are to be treated in a special way by the Immigration Authorities.”
The Cabinet also declared that they will given a residency permit, determined through school records following their arrival in Antigua.
Speaking on the issue during the post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas stated that the issue arose after persons, who would now be at least 40 years old, complained about being unable to access state services.
“This thing came up as a discovery, being uncovered. Quite often we stumble upon [incidents] where persons have laid fallow for a long period of time and it is only when circumstances require them to travel, to avail themselves of certain public services, it is only then that they realise they have no identification,” he said, adding that he has met and offered assistance to some of those individuals in his constituency.
“It is amazing that you could go through an entire decade or more without having to go the hospital, needing to travel, or a driver’s licence, but when you need any of these services, one suddenly becomes aware,” he said, adding that the government will also consider whether legal amendments or regulations would be required to address the issue.
On Saturday, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel “Max” Hurst, offered more details about the “residency permits”.
“Because of the relationship between Antigua and Dominica, a decision was made by Sir Vere Bird to allow all the Dominican children who lost their parents during the hurricane to come to Antigua,” Hurst said.
He added that the initiative will make it easier for these persons to acquire citizenship.
“We’re attempting to ensure that if they wish to become citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, they can so do … but they won’t be subject to deportation if they committed a crime once they become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda through the residency permit which, after a number of years, entitles you to citizenship,” he said.
While an exact number of persons who fall into this category was not given, Hurst indicated that it was likely to be fewer than 100 individuals.
Category 5 Hurricane David was one of the deadliest hurricanes in the late 20th century.
According to Dominican news media sources, 37 people died and an estimated 5,000 received injuries, while 75 percent of the population became homeless.
Many people slept in the open or stayed for weeks or months with friends and neighbours whose homes received limited damage.