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GOB Launches New Amnesty Program for Undocumented Migrants

At Monday’s sitting of the Senate, Minister responsible for Immigration, Senator Eamon Courtenay announced that GOB’s planned amnesty programme is set to roll out next year. Yesterday senior officials from the ministry laid out the blueprint for the programme. Reporter Vejea Alvarez has the story.

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Come January 2022 the Briceno administration will give thousands of undocumented migrants the opportunity to hold a permanent residency status in Belize. The amnesty program offers an overwhelming number of undocumented migrants a chance at citizenship. The move comes as the world over is experiencing a rise in migration both legally and illegally. Minister of State in Immigration Ramon Cervantes says that in Central America Belize witnesses the largest jump between 2009 and 2019.

Ramon Cervantes, Minister of State, Ministry of Immigration: “According to the World Migration report of 2020. The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020 which equates to 3.6% of the global population. The report further states that the largest proportional population changes occurred in Central America and that Belize had the greatest percentage change with its population increasing by 24% from 2009 to 2019.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: The Statistical Institute of Belize in their 2010 census noted that 14.2% of Belize’s population at that time was born outside of the country. Eleven years later and the vast majority of those migrants remain undocumented and irregular prompting the immigration ministry to respond in what they deem the most humane way. According to Mario Arzu, the Director of Nationality and Passports Department the move will diminish opportunities to exploit vulnerable migrants and refugees in Belize.

Mario Arzu, Director, Nationality and Passports Department: “We need to start at a point where we can address the large migrant population that is in Belize. We need to start at that point. We can come up with several reasons. We can roll over to the Director of Border Management and Immigration Services and say listen start deporting people, get everybody out and get them out of the country and that may or may not solve the problem. We know for a fact that if you start that way we’re gonna end up in more problems than we ever would want to imagine. The most humanitarian, the most I would consider most practical approach is to address the issues that we’re facing now. Remember these are people who are living here. These are not people that are coming here, these are people that are here we need to try to regularize their status, give them some status in Belize that they can continue to contribute that they can continue to be a part of our Belizean society and ensure that they are accounted for. So we address various issues. We addressed the humanitarian factor. We address the security factor because remember having thirty to forty thousand people in your country you do not know who they are is a risk.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: And apart from helping the immigration department to identify the number of undocumented migrants in the country Debra Baptist Estrada, Director of Border Management and Immigration Services Department says the exercise will have other positive effects particularly in getting Belizean born children into school and helping to expose and expel fugitives that may be in country. 

Debra Baptist Estrada, Director of Border Management and Immigration Services: “We do have these irregular persons who might have children born in Belize. Some of these children might not be able to be registered so that is very important because we need to account for our Belizean born children. So it assists with the registration of these children. There are adults, in some cases in very remote areas, that have not been registered simply because their parents are in an irregular situation. There’s children who are not going to school subsequent to that very situation where they have not been registered and so because for you to go to school you must have an identity and in the absence of a birth certificate you cannot register your child to go to school.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: The target population among the undocumented community are persons who have lived in the country over a decade, have children over one year, have been married to a Belizean for a year, have been in a commonlaw union for five years with a Belizean or have maintained gainful employment in Belize for at least five years to apply for permanent residency. The program is expected to be launched in early 2022 and is expected to take up to a year to complete.