On May 10, 2016 – over one year ago we reported that ninety two applications had been vetted and recommended, up to that point, to the Refugee Eligibility Committee. They were submitted to the Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, Beverly Williams. To date, despite the regular meetings of the committee and the dozens of recommendations, not one of them have been approved. In meeting up with Minister Williams today we asked her for feedback on this situation.
“I believe the Refugee Committee was set up somewhere in May of 2016. As indicated to the staff there it was developing a new infrastructure. We have to put together the staffing, we have to look at the development of the forms, actually the SOPs on how we will process and while we lean on UNHCR for support it is a government department and we want it to be represented as a government department so we are still in that stage of looking at the structure, putting it together properly and having that do what it is supposed to do for Belize. Again the resource limitation as it relates to refugees on the 1951 convention it speaks to the rights of refugees and the rights of refugees as it pertains to resources and so for us in Belize we have to ensure that we strike a balance in term of how we serve our Belizeans and how we meet our commitments as it relates to the 1951 convention.”
The granting of refugee status particularly to Central American migrants has been a point of concern due to the gang violence and loose criminals that have been reported on in countries like El Salvador and Honduras. Williams spoke of the importance of Belize taking caution.
“If you recall somewhere in the 1980s I believe Belize was very instrumental in looking at a refugee program. We had the birth of Salvapan, Las Flores and all those communities. At this juncture I believe we are impacted by the surrounding nation and the challenges in there as it relates to gang violence and so that is what we are saying for Belize we have to be very careful when we look at what it is we are introducing to Belize and that is a part of what I said earlier in developing the proper structures and systems so we know we can facilitate those refugees once we begin signing those but it’s a work in progress.”
The Refugee Eligibility Committee was re-established in June 2015 after years of dormancy. Director of the Refugees Unit is former Immigration Head, Maria Marin with the committee members coming from the Belize Council of Churches, National Trade Union Congress, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Representative of United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Ministry of Human Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representative of the Solicitor General’s office and a representative for the Commissioner of Police.