Montserrat is one of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, lying 43 km south-west of Antigua and 64 km north-west of Guadeloupe.
The island is 17 km long and 11 km wide, occupying an area of 102 sq km, entirely volcanic and very mountainous.
Named after a monastery in Spain by Columbus during his second great voyage in 1493, the island became a British Colony in 1632.
The first settlers were largely Irish. Montserrat was captured twice by the French for short periods but was finally restored to Britain in 1783.
English is the official language. Christianity is the principal religion and the main denominations are Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist.
The Soufriere Hills Volcano has been active since 1995, with a luctuating level of activity. The capital, Plymouth and several other villages were destroyed in 1997.
An area around the volcano, approximately two-thirds of the island, has been designated a Special Vulnerable Area and three areas around the coastline have been designated as Maritime Exclusion Zones.
The volcano is closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. A Hazard Level System was introduced in August 2008 and information on the current hazard level can be found on the Observatory website (www.mvo.ms).
There has been no significant activity at the volcano since February 2010, representing the longest pause since the first volcanic eruptions in 1995.
Government is executed through a Governor appointed by the Crown, a Cabinet which has the general control and direction of government, and a Legislative Assembly.
The Governor retains responsibility for external affairs, defence, internal security including the police, aspects of the public service and regulation of offshore finance.
The Cabinet is chaired by the Governor and consists of the Premier and three other Ministers, as well as the Cabinet Secretary, Financial Secretary, Attorney General and Deputy Governor.
The Legislative Assembly consists of nine elected members and the same ex-officio members as Cabinet.
The Deputy Governor may attend but has no voting rights in the Legislative Assembly. A new constitution for Montserrat came into force on 27 September 2011.
The new constitution gives more power to the government of Montserrat in the field of international relations and strengthens and expands the fundamental rights and freedoms of those living in Montserrat, reflecting the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Constitution establishes a number of new Commissions to deal with complaints, integrity, mercy and elections. It establishes a National Advisory Council, and retains the existing Public Service Commission.
These are all designed to enhance democracy and good government, and to give greater powers to local politicians and senior civil servants. Elections are held every five years.
Montserrat’s economy is dominated by the rebuilding of the island’s infrastructure since the start of volcanic activity. A new capital is under development in the north of the island and work continues to re-house the population and government.
Tourism and agriculture continue to show solid growth and contribute most to the economy outside the public sector and construction. Prospects for future growth are good, given the significant public investment in Little Bay town and port as well as ferry and air connections. Montserrat aims to grow its declining and ageing population (4,922 in 2011 compared with 11,314 in 1991) back to pre-crisis levels. Currently around 25% of the population are immigrants, largely from other Caribbean countries.
Approximately 10% of the population is in receipt of some form of social assistance scheme, all of which operate strict eligibility regimes.
The UK has provided financial support to Montserrat since the start of volcanic activity in 1995. This was initially in the form of humanitarian assistance and is now focused on rebuilding public infrastructure and the provision of basic public services.
Both the Government of Montserrat and the UK are working to develop the economy so Montserrat becomes self sufficient in the medium term.