ReliefWeb | Preparations are underway in Cameroon for family members and friends to pay their final respects for some of the African migrants believed to have died in the March 28 boat tragedy.
The family of Mofor Verdo, Observer can confirm, has made arrangements in his homeland to celebrate his life.
His brother Fedelis told our newsroom yesterday that the family had been able to confirm from a survivor of the incident that Verdo was one of those killed.
Verdo was one of 30 Cameroonians who lost his life when La Belle Michelle capsized near the coast of St Kitts and Nevis, after the overcrowded fishing vessel ran into difficulty.
Verdo’s wife, according to his brother, has taken ill since hearing the news.
When Verdo left Cameroon in November, he had promised his wife that once he arrived in the US, where he had intended to end up, life would be better.
Hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians have fled violence in the Central African nation, where Anglophone separatists and government forces have been fighting each other for six years.
Several other distraught relatives are still waiting to confirm the status of loved ones believed to have been on the boat which was heading from Antigua to the US Virgin Islands.
“They are supposed to be sending the list out of both dead and alive. It is not right that we are kept in such suspense. They treat Cameroonians like dogs, locked in a cage without a name. Even dogs have names. This is painful and hurtful,” one Cameroonian here in Antigua told Observer.
Those who arrived in Antigua on charter flights from Nigeria last November and December were promised they would be transported to South America or the United States.
Instead, they were left stranded.
Meanwhile, 16 survivors who include two Antiguans remain in St Kitts and Nevis at a community centre while arrangements are made to return them to Antigua and Barbuda.
The government has been in dialogue with authorities in St Kitts to determine whether they will be transported by sea or air.
Observer can also confirm that no charges have been laid against against those suspected of organising the doomed voyage, St Kitts police confirmed to Observer. However, investigations into the incident continue in Antigua and Barbuda, along with Guadeloupe where La Belle Michelle was registered.
One of the two Antiguans on board has been released to relatives in St Kitts, according to sources.
It’s now been a week since the search for survivors was called off. And while law enforcement officials search for answers, questions linger over what international implications this matter could have on Antigua and Barbuda.
Akaash Maharaj, ambassador-at-large and former CEO of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), weighed in on that discussion earlier this week.
He said while he has not yet had dialogue with other territories, those who offer visa-free travel for Antiguans and Barbudans are likely considering tightening up travel restrictions as the country could now be seen as a nation linked to illegal migration.
“Now we see a situation where not only has there been a human trafficking situation based out of Antigua and Barbuda but there’s a reason for apprehension. That is one that happened with the knowledge and with the financing of the government.
“The question that the government should be asking themselves and other states would be asking themselves regarding what was a catastrophic error by the government of Antigua and Barbuda is, is it quite likely to repeat itself or is this potentially part of a pattern that they can expect to see happening in the future.
“That is another reason why it is so important that there is a full independent inquiry into these events,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj went on to share suggestions on how the government could help to clean up the country’s image.
“The best way the government of Antigua and Barbuda can reassure the international community that these events will not be repeated and that they need not fear that this is the first in a line of human smuggling activities is for the people within the country who are responsible for complicity to be brought to justice.
“If the international community sees any political actors’ fingerprints who were on this human smuggling operation have been struck from power, have been convicted after an independent, fair and impartial process, and have paid a price before the law enforcement system, then they will feel reassured that this is not going to reoccur, but if the government evades accountability for those who are guilty, inevitably foreign states will ask themselves, well if they got away with it this time, are they not likely to try it again,” he explained.
It is believed that about 30 migrants were smuggled out of Antigua and Barbuda aboard La Belle Michelle.
The 14 migrants who were rescued along with two Antiguans were revealed to have arrived in Antigua and Barbuda between November and December aboard charter flights from Nigeria.
Maharaj referred to last week’s ordeal as a “great tragedy” and a matter that did not need to snowball into such a fiasco.
He said government must take responsibility for it despite claims by government ministers, including Prime Minister Gaston Browne, that they were misled.
He added that the fact that the airline was part-owned by government already implicates them as “they were more than happy to take credit when it was first touted as a great tourist pool for the country”.