Migrants stranded on island they had not heard of

More than 600 Camer­ounians have come to find themselves stranded on a Caribbean island that many of them had never heard of.

They fight to hold back their tears as they recount the day their siblings were shot dead by militia during a trip to the market in their native Cameroun.

They are among more than 6,000 people to have been killed amid a bitter secessionist war that has been raging for six years in the Central African country.

Hundreds of thousands more have been forced from their homes since violence broke out in 2017 between security forces and An­glophone separatists, who say they face discrimination in the majority French-speaking nation.

More than 600 desperate Cam­eroouian migrants to have instead found themselves stranded on a tiny island of 94,000 people in the Eastern Caribbean via what appears to have been an unscrupulous peo­ple-smuggling operation.

Some forked out as much as $6,000 (£5,000) on charter flights marketed on social media by bogus tour companies pledging to organ­ise immigration logistics as part of the package.

Most of those who have unwit­tingly ended up in Antigua – an island some of them said they had never heard of before – say they had only expected to stay for a few days before being taken to South America, from where they had planned to make their way north to the US.

But when the transport failed to materialise, they were stuck in Antigua with no money left to fund their onward journey.

The fiasco erupted in the wake of attempts by the government of Antigua and Barbuda to establish a direct air route between the twin isle nation and Central Africa.

Three centuries after Antiguans’ ancestors were first forced onto slave ships from Africa to work on brutal British-owned sugar planta­tions on the island, many welcomed new linkages with the motherland. The first charter flight touched down – fittingly – on Independence Day on November 1 with a water cannon salute.

Within weeks, however, at least three more charters operated by another carrier mirroring its opera­tions arrived in the country bearing throngs of Camerounians escaping persecution. —BBC

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