637 Cameroonian migrants are currently stranded on the island of Antigua after attempting to enter the United States. According to a report by the BBC, the migrants are fleeing their country because of the conflict that has been ongoing between the Cameroonian armed forces and English separatists.
The migrants left Cameroon by way of charter flights advertised on social media that had promised to get them to South America, from where they would travel to the U.S. Some of the migrants are reported to have paid amounts of up to $6,000 for the trip that ended in Antigua. After arriving in Antigua, the migrants thought they would stay there for a few days before they were transported to South America. However, it soon dawned on them that they had been swindled and had to remain in an unfamiliar country without adequate money, resources, or shelter.
The Antigua and Barbuda government had created a new flight path that would see air travel between the Caribbean nation and central African countries. This was done to foster bilateral relations between the regions and encourage tourism. However, the unexpected arrival of the Cameroonian migrants created an unexpected situation. To fix the crisis and create order, the Antiguan government decided to repatriate the migrants back to their country. However, the Cameroonians passionately pleaded their cases, describing the situation in their country. Having left Cameroon to escape the violence, the migrants were not eager to return.
A Divisive Legacy
Cameroon was colonized by the British and the French, leaving behind a divisive legacy of Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians. The Anglophone citizens of Cameroon, who have traditionally been based in the North-West and South-West regions of the country, felt discriminated against by the Francophone citizens. Resources, services, and opportunities were not fairly distributed, with the Anglophone citizens bearing the brunt of this unfairness.
In 2016, protests against the unfair treatment started and initially, the government ignored the demonstrations. However, in 2017, the Cameroonian armed forces responded with lethal force, starting a civil war that has plagued the country since then. This is what led the migrants to flee their homes and land in Antigua, a country many of the migrants claim they “never knew existed.”
The conflict has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands and approximately 6,000 deaths.
An Escape from Violence
“Our people are marginalized; they are being killed. The youths are gone, parents are gone, they burn houses, destroy things…since 2017 to today, 2023, they are killing people every day. Women are lamenting for their children being killed, children are lamenting for their parents being killed, everyone is in trouble. Children are not going to school. They burn schools, they burn houses [and] they kill all the youths. They are killing youths every day…they keep killing all the youths, they don’t want to see a male child,” a Cameroonian woman told The Antigua Observer in February 2023. Daniel, a young man from the central African country, said he could not go back home because it would result in his arrest. He claimed two of his brothers died in the conflict.
Home Away From Home
The Antiguan government reversed its decision to repatriate the migrants on humanitarian grounds, promising to carry out a skills audit. “As the economy continues to expand, we’re going to need additional skills,” Information Minister Melford Nicholas told the media. “We will give them accommodation and find a way to give them legal status here.”
This decision was condemned by opposition parties that held a protest on February 7th, demanding a solution to the situation. Antigua is typically known as a tourist attraction and there were fears the presence of the migrants would affect the tourism industry. “The government needs to resolve this matter both for the poor people of Cameroon and for the poor people of Antigua,” Makeda Mikael, a businesswoman involved in aviation, told the BBC. “Opening up the mid-Atlantic as a migrant route could ruin tourism in the Caribbean.”
Minister Nicholas made a commitment to defend the migrants, by declaring that they should not fear deportation. Antiguan locals are currently helping the migrants while they put together funds to leave the island nation.