Government Responds to Refugee Concerns

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Updated: May 10, 2016

The issues of the quantity of persons seeking refugee status, the due diligence being put into the applications by these outsiders have been burning in the local media of recent.  Yesterday we brought you an interview done with the Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, Beverly Castillo and tonight we will share with you a release coming out of the Government of Belize where they have stated their wish to clarify reports in the media of a current amnesty program for irregular migrants or for persons who illegal immigration status in Belize.  The release states that there is no such amnesty program and goes to write on the  Refugee Eligibility Committee, which is chaired by the recently appointed Director of Refugees, Maria Marin with other members hailing from 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 of the Commissioner of Police.  The release reads, in part, quote, “The committee was reactivated in June 2015 after several years of dormancy.  Since reactivation, the committee has held five meetings to consider applications for asylum from persons fleeing from persecution, especially gang violence in their home countries.  To date the Committee has vetted and recommended 92 applications and these have been submitted to the Minister with responsibility for Immigration for the grant of refugee status or otherwise.  Help for Progress, a nongovernmental organization, represents the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and has the responsibility to receive applications from potential asylum seekers and conduct an initial interview. Those applicants who meet the criteria for refugee status are referred to the Immigration Department, where a second interview is done and the successful applicants are then given an appointment for a more in depth interview. The asylum seeker is then given a Special Permit which is valid until the time of the in-depth interview in order to allow him legal status in Belize.   It is only after the in-depth interview that the applicants’ documents are forwarded to the Refugee Eligibility Committee for consideration and, thereafter, those recommended for refugee status are submitted to the Minister of Immigration for approval. To date some 40 files have been reviewed at the ministry but the Minister of Immigration has not yet granted refugee status to any person.  There is also a proposal submitted to the Government of Belize by the UNHCR for consideration of a Protection Transfer Arrangement in which Belize would act as a host country for groups of ten families at a time coming from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) but at this time, mainly from El Salvador, transiting to the United States of America for resettlement.   These persons would arrive in Belize and remain for a period of three to six months in order to finalize documentation enroute to resettlement. At this time the Government of Belize has not given its approval for the Protection Transfer Arrangement.”  End of quote.