PM Browne says gov’t is ‘a victim’ in West African saga

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

[email protected]

Prime Minister Gaston Browne reiterated his government’s stance that it held no responsibility for last Tuesday’s boat tragedy which resulted in the deaths of three African migrants and the 13 others still missing.

It is believed that about 30 migrants had been smuggled out of Antigua and Barbuda aboard a worn-down fishing vessel, La Belle Michelle II, which capsized 12 nautical miles off the south coast of St Kitts and Nevis.

The 14 migrants who were rescued by St Kitts authorities and other mariners in the area were revealed to have arrived in Antigua and Barbuda between November and December 2022 aboard the “practically defunct” Antigua Airways charter, as well as a second chartered airline which the government maintains “exploited” the air route.

Speaking on the Browne and Browne show on Saturday, the Prime Minister claimed that the capsizing “had nothing to do” with his administration.

“I don’t these people, I never met them or had any engagements with anyone who they may have spoken with or any boat captain or any individual who they may have had arrangements with in Africa,” he said.

Browne said that his government took the right choice to “assimilate” the migrants into the Antiguan and Barbudan society after being stranded in the country by Antigua Airways and reported second airline, HiFly.

“At the end of the day, we are victims in the sense that our benevolence and pure intent to establish this air bridge between Africa and the Caribbean was violated,” he said.

“When we recognised that many of them didn’t have any hotel bookings — and that, too, was a red flag and we took a political beating on the issue.

“But let’s face it: if we had the slightest clue that these individuals were potential migrant smugglers …[or] anything other than tourists, of course we would not have allowed them entry because we knew that it would have undermined our chances,” he added.

According to the Prime Minister, the studies being carried out by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed the transparency of the government.

“They have commenced their assessment; they should be meeting with these individuals, interviewing [the migrants] and various stakeholders. Now, evidently, if we had anything to hide, we would not have invited these reputable international organisations,” he said.

Meanwhile, Guadeloupe authorities have reportedly opened investigations into Tuesday’s boat tragedy.

According to news outlet Africanews, public prosecutor of Pointe-à-Pitre Patrick Desjardins opened an investigation for “manslaughter by deliberate breach of a security obligation, involuntary injuries by deliberate breach of a security obligation, trafficking in human beings in an organised gang”.

La Belle Michelle II, which is registered in Guadeloupe, was found to be principally involved in last week’s tragedy although the owner has been reported to have claimed it was stolen.

Meanwhile, in Antigua and Barbuda, Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney indicated that persons involved in that incident could face charges under the Migrant Smuggling Act.

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