Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has made another call for “undocumented” Africans in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to regularise their status.
The prime minister said in Nigeria last week that there are some 350-500 Nigerians in SVG.
He told a press briefing in Kingstown, on Friday, that a significant number of Nigerians came to SVG in 2017 from All Saints University in Dominica after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
“They came here — one hundred and something of them — and, subsequently, others came as students to that university and to the American University of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the prime minister explained.
“What I understand is that when there was a change of government in Nigeria, the government altered its funding policy for medical students overseas,” said Gonsalves, who had just returned from Nigeria, where he delivered the convocation lecture at a private university.
“So, some of those students were left stranded. Some of them [are] here doing work of one kind or another; some changed their courses. I know a couple of them are doing nursing right now rather than doing medicine; some have gone into music; some have, actually, skills as craftsmen and joiners and carpenters and the like,” he said.
“And many of them are what you may call undocumented, that is to say they do not have any status now formalised, other than their student status and they are no longer students.
“And I am saying to them, I have said it to them and I am saying again, please come and regularise yourself. Get residence, get work permits. Regularise yourself.”
He said that the former students who have been in SVG for over seven years can apply to become citizens.
“In short, we have a number of bright, young Nigerians. We haven’t paid for their primary education, we haven’t paid for their secondary education, we haven’t paid anything for their tertiary education. They are a resource. They are an important resource.”
He noted that some of the Nigerians have married to Vincentians and have received citizenship.
“Some, like other persons, some of them have migrated since they got married with their partners. Some are here. In other words, it’s a mixed group.
“And, my observation is this, the working people and the peasantry of the country have provided our Nigerian brothers and sisters with tremendous solidarity. I know of many, many cases. We must not in any way at all discriminate or hold anything against young, law-abiding people.
“They may be undocumented but law-abiding in the sense that they are not involved in any criminal activity,” said Gonsalves, who is minister of national security.
He said that if any of the undocumented Africans get involved in criminal activity, “the relevant institutions of the state, the police, the court will deal with that.
“And night will follow day in those circumstances in that the court would address them accordingly in every material particular,” Gonsalves said, adding, “The point is this, I am encouraging them to regularise themselves.
“For those persons who may have any bias — and the number will have bias against them because they are Nigerians is a number which is declining in our society because some of those persons — if they were Americans or Canadians or Europeans, British, for instance or French, may not have been so unfavourable towards them. But that is a minority in our country and it’s part of my duty to speak honestly towards these particular facts and circumstances.”