Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimates that 30 percent of Barbudans are staying in Antigua as life on its Caribbean sister island is more stable.
In a parliamentary debate over the Barbuda Land Act, Browne said the island needs people in order make its reconstruction work.
In mid-September, Category 5 Hurricane Irma destroyed 95 percent of Barbuda’s infrastructure and buildings. Browne previously declared Barbuda “uninhabitable,” and ordered the island’s population of 1,700 to take refuge in Antigua. For the first time in over 300 years, Barbuda was deserted.
The prime minister told Parliament that 50 homes on Barbuda were repaired, but that residents “are not moving back home.”
“I suspect, Mr. Speaker, that we are going to lose 30 percent of the Barbuda population because they are not going back home. Many of them have said to me that they are not going back to Barbuda,” he noted.
Browne said some Barbudans have found jobs on Antigua, but are still receiving government assistance provided after the major storm and government-ordered exodus.
“Personally I have signed no less than 40 duty-free waivers for brand new vehicles from Harney Motors for Barbudans,” Browne told the Lower House.
“They are living better in Antigua than they did in Barbuda. They have no interest to go back to Barbuda because if things are so bad here then go back home nah.”
The government said the island’s high school will be operable in two months and that the Barbudan airport is being repaired. Officials also said running water has been restored and authorities continue to repair the island’s hospital and council building.
Browne said, “We need people back on Barbuda. The biggest problem undermining the recovery is that we do not have sufficient people on Barbuda. They need to go back home."