It was a wonderful come-to-Jesus moment when we heard that the good Minister responsible for Immigration, the Honourable Steadroy Benjamin, was going to recommend to his Cabinet colleagues that the flights from Nigeria to Antigua, be stopped. [Antigua Breaking News] Hallelujah! But what took the good Minister Benjamin so long? After all, he is a bright fella, and he can identify crapola when he sees it. Did he not recognize that this whole thing was crapola? We suppose that he decided to hold his nose and look away.
Anyway, from the very first flight this past November 1, and the shiftless, aimless, penurious way in which we saw our dear brothers and sisters from the Motherland wandering around Antigua and Barbuda, we sensed that something was wrong. Never mind the fatuous happy-talk from some in High Places, who speciously referred to the clearly indigent Africans as “Wealthy Nigerians,” and never mind the cheerleading talk about the wonderful boost to our tourism, and forging links across the Atlantic with our brethren, something smelled fishy, stinking up to high heaven.
We recall a heartbreaking interview on our very own Observer AM in which an African migrant called ‘Divine’ (not his real name), detailed to Dr Jacqui Quinn how much money he’d paid to operatives (it was a great deal of money), for his trip to Antigua, on the strength of the promise that he would be facilitated on to Suriname and eventually to the US/Mexico border, where hopefully, he would be able to cross into the so-called Promised Land, far away from the war in his native Cameroon. He spoke tearfully of leaving a wife and other family members behind; he shared that his life would be in grave danger if he returned to Cameroon; he detailed the horrors of the conflict between the French-speaking Cameroonians (80% of the population) and the English-speaking (20%), and the victimisation being meted out to his English-speaking minority faction.
Of course, Divine’s tale of woe in the Motherland saddened us. It was yet another account of our people fighting against each other instead of against the neo-colonials and resource-grabbing multinationals, who mean us no well, and in fact, are complicit in stoking the embers of the little things that may divide us. Who can forget the Hutu-Tutsi strife which stemmed from class warfare, with the Tutsis perceived by the Belgians (the colonial rulers of Rwanda) as having greater wealth and social status over what they suggested were the lower class Hutus. We suggest that the Belgian colonisers were the stokers of the divisiveness and hate between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, and their roughly thirty years of that sort of destructive rule contributed to the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 of the Tutsi minority were murdered. It is a dark chapter in human history.
The thing is that, if our African bothers and sisters are fleeing the war in Cameroon, there are legal ways in which they could be granted refugee status in neighbouring African countries willing to help. Even countries further afield that are willing to take some of the beleaguered English-speaking Cameroonians can be found. But to try to sneak them across borders, with Antigua as a witting or unwitting accomplice, is despicable. It will incur the wrath of the countries where these migrants try to settle.
For person or persons unknown to take advantage of the Cameroonian misery, preying on their desperation to escape is unconscionable and inhumane. And then to simply drop them off in Antigua and Barbuda, leaving them to fend for themselves, shuttling from one sort of accommodation to another, and pooling meagre resources to buy bread, is a new low in human exploitation. The aforementioned Divine shed tears when he explained that he is unhappy being here in Antigua, he wants to leave as soon as possible, and he can get no definitive answer as to when the opportunity to move on to what was promised to be the next leg of his sojourn – the United States (his ultimate destination), might be. So sad!
Meanwhile, the person or persons who arranged this harebrained money-making scheme are shuttling back and forth to their banks, depositing their ill-gotten gain, whilst chomping on their cigars. You bet the US authorities will be taking a hard look at those involved. It cannot end good, and Antigua will get a black eye on the international scene from this human migrant debacle. We have been saying that for a long time.
Mercifully, our good attorney general has had a Damascus Road conversion. He is now suddenly concerned about Antigua Airways, never mind that Antigua and Barbudans of goodwill, have been concerned for a rather long time, and had been raising serious questions that demanded answers. Sadly, the answers were not forthcoming – not from the good Minister of Foreign Affairs, not from the equally- good Minister of Tourism, not from the exceedingly good, He of a High Place. They were tight-lipped, and their apologists tried to equate the shady, underhand movement of desperate Africans toting backpacks, to Caucasian and Asian migrants on a transparent tourism trek around the island. They played the race card. They suggested that those of us who wanted answers were self-hating hypocrites who looked down on our own brothers and sisters from Africa. Chupz!
Rather than address the pointed questions, they tried to deflect and distract. But those questions remain. Why is there this sudden religious experience immediately after the election? Did the flights have anything to do with our elections? Is there more in the mortar than the pestle? Does this government get twenty percent from the monies collected from these poor Cameroonians? What’s up with that Nigerian Printing Press and its relationship with Those in High Places in this government? Will our government divest itself of that much-ballyhooed twenty percent equity in Antigua Airways? What will become of those Cameroonians who are stuck here in limbo? Concerned citizens would like to know.
In that regard, we will join the good Attorney General in prayer as we all sing ‘Kumbaya Ma Lord!’ Seems, an epiphany is good for the soul.
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