Amnesty Program in Belize Looking to Wrap Up
As the days are winding down to the end of the Amnesty Program’s extension period, the UNHCR’s Regional Representative, Philippa Candler, will also be visiting asylum seekers in the Cayo District. The program was given a one-month extension to give those who were unable to complete the application process more time to do so. However, the backlog is due to several factors, such as a lack of information, a lack of funds, and incomplete documentation. Candler says that they are also looking to see how they can assist with the implementation of the second phase.
Philippa Candler, High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Representative, UNHCR: “We’re ready to continue supporting on the next phase of the exercise which will hopefully involve supporting asylum seekers, refugees and others who are accepted and issued with documents as a result of the amnesty so to help them integrate into Belize if they need support for that. So I think that our role is to work with community organizations, NGOs that may have a presence in some of these more remote communities to work also with other UN agencies and government to try and send out information as much as possible to communities who might not know about it. Information on what the procedure is but also information on the criteria and information that it is safe to apply because I think sometimes people are a bit weary about programs like this and they need to be reassured that it is safe for them to apply. And I think in terms of the outreach of information I mean this is where also the media have an important role to play because of course you have a big outreach through people who listen to your radio or TV shows and can also send this message that the program existed and that there are ways that they can apply.”
The UNHCR is also looking to meet with the Government of Belize to provide recommendations on the updating of the Refugee Act. UNHCR Belize’s Head of Office, Myrat Myradov, explains that this will significantly improve the process they undergo to regularize their status and access services such as education, health, and employment.
Myrat Myradoe, Head of Office, UNHRC Belize: “Refugee law of Belize being adopted in the year 2000 and then it has been reviewed in 2011 however since then even though Belize is a signatory to the 1951 convention the reality has been changing and the process has been changing as well. For example refugee department was opened in 2016 and since then they’ve been considering the asylum claims for recognition. So there are certain elements which need to be updated. For example the timelines of the processes. So it’s mainly procedural things, it’s nothing major it’s just the procedural things that need to be outlined including as you’re well aware the refugee status which is granted by the government is temporary in nature so it has to lead into one or another status or regularization. So amnesty is a good example but it’s a one time exercise. So the law may potentially if adopted would outline that what happens upon recognition as a refugee. Eventually they will need to have a legal pathway to be able to apply for permanent residency or nationality and this something that the Government of Belize will need to consider and decide in the technical working group which is instituted by the government and consists of the various ministries is actually taking a very close look into that including at best practices of other countries.”
The amnesty program ends at the end of this month.