Read the 2024 Edition of Discover Montserrat Magazine

“Refugees” Want to Move to Montserrat

Discover Montserrat and several of its associated platforms have been noting an increase in activity from the Middle East with men seeking information on relocating to the island.

The men, usually under the age of 30 are engaging via Facebook in Montserrat community groups and fan pages inquiring on how they can move to the island. The usual queries are how can I get a job there and can I claim refugee status as I can no longer live in my country. 

They usually identify Algeria or Syria as their home country but currently living in other places such as Jordan.

We spoke to Tony Bates, UK Policy Adviser to the Governor and Head of the Governor’s Office about the trend and whether Montserrat could offer asylum to refugees.

Bates explained that the 1951 UN Convention on Status of Refugees was extended to Montserrat and amended in law in 2009.

However, to be able to claim asylum, individuals must be able to prove a well defined fear of persecution in their homeland. The act defines a refugee as : “

(a) owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, he is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or
(b) not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, he is unable or, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is unwilling to return to it.”

Bates said “You can’t asylum shop, which means you cannot choose where to seek asylum. Where they first land after leaving the country where they are being persecuted is where they must ordinarily claim asylum, assuming it can be considered as a place of safe haven. You have to go through at least two stops (UK and Antigua normally) to get to Montserrat from that part of the world, so they would not be able to choose the island as their first stop. And anyone who wishes to settle legally in Montserrat must meet the provisions of Montserrat’s immigration legislation, which includes applying for and obtaining a visa in advance.”

Bates confirmed that two Syrians did come to Montserrat over the past year but were turned back as they did not have clearance and legal documents to land here. Syria and Algeria are both countries which require a visa for admittance by immigration.

When asked whether Middle Eastern nationals would be able to claim citizenship with an appropriate financial investment, the UK Policy Adviser said history has shown that the people who think they can acquire British Overseas Territories citizenship under what is commonly known as Citizenship by Investment in other countries are not necessarily interested in living on the island and it is not provided for under the British Nationality Act 1981. “There are differences of opinion on economic citizenship. You cannot get a British Overseas Territory Citizen passport simply by investing a lump sum. To be able to acquire British Overseas Territories citizenship or British citizenship they must comply with the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981. However, if Montserrat’s immigration legislation provides for residence status on the grounds of investing a given amount of money in the economy, that is a separate issue and not to be confused with nationality and passports.”

The official advises that the Commissioner of Police, who is also the Chief Immigration Officer, should be informed of any enquiries from potential asylum seekers