The number of migrants worldwide has increased recently on a large scale basis as we have seen with the Central American Caravan which is the source of controversy in the United States of America. A migrant is a person who moves from one country to another to live; and when the reason for their relocation stems from persecution that person is categorized as a refugee. There isn’t any statistics that can state how many persons migrate to Belize on a yearly basis, however, it is believed, that the number is high due to our geographic location. In this regard, the International Organization for Migration, IOM, wants to ensure that the local journalists are knowledgeable when reporting on issues involving migrants. There was a training on Saturday with much participation from the various media houses in Belize. Dyon Elliott was one of the facilitators.
Dyon Elliot Technical Consultant IOM: “You know that there is a lot of migration matters that come up from time to time and the question is how should we approach those types of issues. As a journalist it is always a matter of navigating a bunch of opinions, a lot of views are out there. Some people are extreme from one end to the next and then you have the in between so what we try to equip the journalist today as a framework that was developed and many such framework exists that provide a way of approaching these types of stories whether we are looking and sticking to facts and avoiding bias. Making sure that there is a legal element to a lot of migration between matters so we know the law. We looked at other things whether or not there is a human side to it and for example you hear talks about migrant Caravan for example but there is a human element to these stories that go into those. You are making sure people who are claiming to speak on behalf of these groups that are legitimate representatives of those groups and most importantly ensure that we are avoiding hate speech.
Belize has signed onto several international conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Transnational Organized Crime, the Refugees Convention and Convention on the Rights of Children. According to Diana Shaw, Executive Director of the Child Development Foundation, despite all the laws Belize has enacted referencing migrants, some are archaic and need revision.
Diana Shaw Executive Director Child Development Foundation: “A refugee act that also affect migrants in situations of risk that is in need of revision, that is a much older legislation and does not mirror some of the more recent international commitments that we have signed onto with the newer conventions that protect that rights of persons in a vulnerable status and also does not reflect some of the more current approaches that we are taking as a part of our membership in regional frameworks that look at these issues and the particular situation of migrants situations of risk. In our laws when you are coming to a country to seek asylum you are not necessarily required to get a Visa to get the Asylum. The point of getting the Asylum is that you are a person in need of protection and you are claiming that you need protection because of a situation that you are faced in your country of origin and so even if you enter a country using an irregular means. If you come to Belize outside of recognized entry requirements and you claim asylum status we are recognized by our laws, we are obligated to investigate and accept you coming in and then to determine whether you are going to be allowed to stay. So while you come seeking asylum there is a process that has to be done by the relevant authorities. Here we have the Immigration Department by which the Officer may be the first person that you come in contact with but that process once you are seeking asylum then goes through the Refugee Department. We have specific requirements in our law for instance we require somebody who is seeking asylum who wants to get refugee status to make their application within fourteen days of arriving. That is one of the requirements that has posed some challenges to persons who are seeking that status.
Shaw said that there is a backlog of refugees’ cases due to persons applying outside the fourteen days period and these person are in limbo.