By Robert A. Emmanuel
After months of attempted evictions by the government and pleas for more time from Barbudans, the Ministry of Works, over the weekend, removed the last set of Barbudans from the Barrymore Hotel.
In a press release on the weekend, the Ministry said it has “successfully removed all the occupants at the Barrymore Hotel.
“Ministry officials and representatives from the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), with the assistance of the Police, conducted an operation Saturday to have all the residents relocated, as the facility is no longer a post-hurricane shelter,” it said.
It added that moving about 24 Barbudans who had remained at the Fort Road location will allow the government to develop the premises into a small hotel and business center.
OBSERVER media spoke to Minister of Works Lennox Weston in the aftermath of the operation during which he encouraged the Barbudans who were evicted to return to Barbuda if necessary.
Weston said the Barbuda Council was ready to provide accommodation for them should they return.
The Member of Parliament for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, has in the past urged the Barbudans to return home and said the Council was ready to assist those facing difficulty in Antigua.
But according to Weston, “Those who remained have blatantly refused to move; they have not sought work. The Barbuda Council [has also] invited them to come back over and provided opportunity for shelter… temporary shelter means temporary and… we are now clearing the site so we can rebuild the area and turn it into a facility for a hotel and regional conference centre.”
Weston reiterated his stance that more than enough time had been given to those who had been staying at the Barrymore Hotel.
“We have had a policy of closing all shelters. If you recall, we had shelters at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Nurses Hostel, within several hotels that [the government] has paid for and we had shelters in Barbuda. Every single shelter has been closed, except this one which we are now closing. We have provided notice upon notice, deadline after deadline,” he noted.
According to the Ministry’s press statement, it had also received reports of “vandalism and the most recent report being the theft of water from a nearby facility… these acts will not be condoned or supported.”
Director of the NODS Philmore Mullin told our newsroom that, after closing the shelters, NODS will not have any ongoing involvement in accommodating Barbudans who had been evacuated following Hurricane Irma.
Effectively, he explained, those persons who remain in Antigua need to secure their own accommodation, a stipulation which has left the former residents in a state of flux.
Meanwhile, OBSERVER also spoke with one of the now former occupants of the facility, who said that everyone who resided at the hotel at the time, including children, “had no other choice” but have now been forced to seek other accommodation.