The Government of Belize is looking to launch an amnesty program for illegal or undocumented migrants currently living in Belize. The official announcement came this morning by the Minister of Immigration, Eamon Courtenay. According to Senator Courtenay, the program will roll out in April 2022 with several requirements.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs: “On the recommendation of the ministry cabinet has approved the following criteria to be used for person’s to qualify for application for permanent residence under the amnesty. A registered asylum seekers. B irregular migrants who have resided continuously in Belize before 2010. C) Irregular migrants who have Belizean children born prior to 2020. D) Irregular migrants who have completed primary and or secondary education in Belize and continue to reside in Belize. E) Irregular migrants who are married to Belizeans for at least one year. F) Irregular migrants who are in common law unions with a Belizean for a continuous period of five years or more. G) Irregular migrants who are recommended by the Ministry of Human Development and H) Irregular migrants who have maintained gainful employment in Belize for at least five years. I emphasize Madam President that the provision that says recommended by the Ministry of Human Development seeks to address a very discreet and small number of cases. The Ministry of Immigration has been informed by the Ministry of Human Development that there are quite a number of children in Belize without their parents who are in institutions and they have no way of identify who their parents are or where their parents are and these children are kept at the institutions until they reach the age of maturity. What we propose is that on the recommendation of the Ministry of Human Development we would consider giving permanent resident status and therefore some identity to these children it would not the be wider than that. In order to implement this amnesty Madam President and senators there is a requirement for legal adjustments and financing. Legislation will be passed to govern the process and therefore it will come back to the Senate. The amnesty is planned to begin in April 2022 and will have a four month registration period and a six month post registration period for a total timeframe of ten months.”
Senator Courtenay further added that there is a serious backlog in cases of refugee applications. He says the halting of the refugee programme was an illegal act and that the ministry is now seeking to rectify the issue. He noted that the explosion of migration is not unique to Belize as it is a situation being faced by numerous nations.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Earlier this year I had reported that the UDP administration had unlawfully halted the processing of refugee applications causing a tremendous backlog of cases. We are addressing this problem by adopting several measures. Madam President, Senators, Belize has had to amnesties. The first was in late 1984 where 8,680 undocumented migrants were registered. Many of these persons are now lawful citizens of Belize. Fifteen years later in 1999 another integration exercise resulted in granting approximately 11,168 persons newly registered migrants permanent residence. Madam President yet another exercise was planned for 2010 when officials in government estimated that over 20,000 undocumented migrants who were expected to be registered. Unfortunately that amnesty never occurred. This is important. In 2010 more than ten years ago officials estimated that more than 20,000 migrants were residing illegally in Belize it is against this background that we must address the reality of the present day immigration crisis. Whilst some of the migrants have since 2010 regularized their status it is believed that many more have entered the country and have an irregular immigration status. Using the figures from the two amnesties and the 2010 estimate the Ministry of Immigration estimates that the number of irregular migrants in Belize in 2021 is between forty to sixty thousand migrants. This rough estimate is also shared by international organizations. Irregular migrants breeds illegality and abuse. Many migrants find themselves victims of human trafficking, modern day slavery. Irregular migrants because of their vulnerability are often employed at very low wages and work in dreadful conditions. Additionally many are paid “off the books” and therefore generate little tax revenue. Some of the migrants are gang members or former gang members and engage in serious criminal activities in Belize. However many migrants have children in Belize and enter relationships which lead to complications. For example there are families where both or one parent is irregular but the children are regular, that is they were born in Belize. Registering the children in school exposes the parents and there is a tendency not to enroll them. Of course many irregular migrants access social and other services and therefore add to the cost of service delivery. That said Madam President I wish to emphasize that migrants whether irregular or not contribute positively to the Belizean economy. They work in many sectors of the economy and many operate small and micro businesses contributing to economic activity and employment. The Ministry of Immigration believes that it is propitious to implement an amnesty program that will offer permanent resident status to undocumented migrants residing in Belize leasing eventually to citizenship over and extended period of time under the conditions that require that they continue in regular status.”
Love News understands that the current estimated number of illegal or undocumented migrants in Belize is in the range of forty to sixty thousand. Senator Courtenay explained that there are some difficulties in tracking the exact number, but the working relationship with the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is making it a bit easier.
Eamon Courntenay, Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Over the past decade or so there has been a significant increase in migration, both legal and illegal throughout the world. The Central American region included. The figures of movement of migrants are staggering, according to the world to migration report 2020 and I quote, “the current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 20, which equates to 3.6 percent of the global population. Migration to North America is a key feature in Latin America and the Caribbean region in 2019 over 26 million migrants had made the journey North and were residing in North America. The 2020 report continues several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have undergone considerable population change over the last decade. All the top 20 countries, experienced an increase in the size of their populations during this period with the largest population proportion of population changes occurring in Central, America. Belize had the greatest percentage change with its population increasing by 24 percent from 2009 to 2019. It was followed by Guatemala and Honduras whose populations grew by nearly twenty-three, and twenty percent respectively.”
It is clear that most of the migrants who have settled in beliefs are from the neighboring Republic’s with increasing numbers from Haiti China, not Taiwan, and Africa. Migrants from Central American Republic’s are in the main fleeing gang related violence and seeking employment opportunities. Migrants from Haiti are fleeing political violence, and vulnerability, and economic opportunities while those from China are primarily seeking economic opportunities. The 2020 census by Statistical Institute of Belize found that 14.2 percent of Belize’s population was born abroad. However, this percentage does not begin to reflect the number of undocumented immigrants who moved to Belize during the past two decades. The SIB does not have any statistics of the number of undocumented migrants in Belize. Therefore accurate projections of social assistance, losses in tax revenue, increasing social impacts and unbalanced access to social services are impossible.”