The following Statement was issued today by Prime Minister, Honourable Gaston Browne, on a boat tragedy which left Antigua and Barbuda illegally.
“On behalf of my government and myself, I express deep sorrow at the loss of life and distress suffered by persons aboard a vessel which left Antigua and Barbuda illegally earlier today, Tuesday 28 March for an unknown destination, and which capsized in the open sea.
While reports are still sketchy, we understand that the majority of persons on board the vessel may be Africans who were part of those who arrived here as tourists but with the intention of migrating to other countries.
It is widely known that my Government has been making every effort to be helpful to these brothers and sisters from Africa who were marooned on Antigua, including granting them residence and the opportunity to work. We have also been engaged with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration on the best ways of treating them as refugees.
Two things appear clear from today’s tragic events. The first is that the Africans on board the vessel wanted to leave Antigua and Barbuda for another country. The second is that the owners and operators of a vessel in Antigua and Barbuda facilitated their transport on an illegal journey.
My government will launch a full investigation into the circumstances of this unlawful and dreadful affair, including the involvement of any citizens and residents.
We will also uphold our international obligations against human trafficking and illegal migration by strengthening our domestic institutions and enhancing our cooperation with regional and hemispheric partners.
In the meantime, my Government will also continue to offer refuge in Antigua and Barbuda to the survivors of today’s events, and we will make appropriate arrangements for the burial of the deceased. We will also make every effort to contact their relatives to advise them of this heart-breaking tragedy.
We appeal to the Africans, who are in Antigua and Barbuda, not to be tempted into any schemes such as what happened today, but to work with the Government, through our Immigration authorities, to help find acceptable solutions to their circumstances.
All of the facts surrounding today’s calamity are not yet known.
However, I know that we all want to understand what occurred and to take action to ensure it does not happen again.
My Government will further advise of all these circumstances as soon as we receive more and better particulars.”