Migration and Belize

Migration and Belize

Migration: it is a hot-button issue across the regions and continents, but for a small country like Belize, it has grown into a major concern.  Belize has been known as the bridge for many things ranging from trade to drug trafficking, and from human smuggling to illegal migration.  With pressures from the United States to combat migration, Belize has been forced to take on several immigration policies, in an attempt to curb the caravans hoping to reach the US/Mexico border.  Statistics have shown that in Belize, hundreds of persons illegally entering Belize are apprehended and ordered to leave.   With Prime Minister John Briceno recently concluding meetings in the US on migration, tonight, we take a look at just how much of a concern the issue is.  Here is Reporter, Vejea Alvarez. 

Vejea Alvarez, Love News:  Of the hundreds of illegal migrants that transit Belize each year in hopes of getting to the United States 468 have been apprehended by authorities since January 2023 and were ordered to leave the country. 40 were captured in Corozal, 32 in Benque, 9 in Orange Walk, 26 in Belize City, 15 in Dangriga, 12 in punta Gorda and the highest number was recorded in Belmopan with 327. The person’s arrived from 25 countries but the top four nationalities were Brazilians, Guatemalans, Mexicans and Haitians in that order. But while many are captured a significant number successfully transit the country because according to the Mexican government this year alone 1.7 million migrants arrived at the Mexican US border, a startling figure. That Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde met with Latin American leaders to discuss on Sunday.

Cordel Hyde, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize: “It’s a huge problem. You know the foreign minister from Panama was saying that there is an area they call it the Gueran Gap where people are being taken advantage of, people trying to reach the United States by way of that jungle, by way of that rainforest. Lots of people taking advantage of them, telling them that it will take two nights or two days to get through the jungle to reach the other side only to find out it takes eight days and eight nights and there has been a lot of death, a lot of tragedy a lot of robbery, a lot of abuse taking place and that’s happening a lot of places and so the idea was that all the countries of this region come together in pool our resources in the spirit of community, and the spirit of cooperation tried to address this very very difficult issue, a very vexing issue.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: And the Belize is trying to do is part. From implementing travel restrictions for persons from Haiti and Jamaica to increasing screenings for South American Nationals. At the Philip Goldson International Airport $124 persons were refused entry into the country while at the Western and Northern borders respectively the numbers were 46 and 14. But while a total of 201 people were refused entry at legal border points the head of the International Office of Migration in Belize Diana Locke explained that people may be finding illicit ways to enter Belize.

Diana Locke, Head of International Office Of Migration: “We’ve seen reports that it takes between two to three hours for persons to transit Belize who are heading to the US who want to head to the US. We don’t know how accurate those numbers are but we’ve seen reports of those. I believe that people are probably still passing through, I do believe that they are still interceptions. We don’t have data on that information so I am not able to tell you and we are not involved in that part of the process.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: IOM is one of the many organizations working with the government in tackling the influx of migrants. In September the organization received over a million dollars to support its efforts. The money was provided by the US government which is made a collaborative effort to reduce migratory pressures at its borders.

Mileydi Guilarte, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Admin, Latin America and Caribbean: “Belize, and we communicated this, has really become a model in many ways in our region for looking for all types of solutions to integrate migrants. So looking at sustainable solutions.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: But while the country is showing progress much work still needs to be done in areas like human trafficking as migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In 2023 the US State Department said that Belize does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The country has not been able to convict an acceptable number of traffickers but hundreds of migrants find themselves in jail each year according to CEO of the Belize Central Prison.

Virgilio Murillo, CEO, Belize Central Prison: “We do have quite a high number of migrants once we don’t have a pandemic I want to make that clear because the only time I saw low numbers for the migrants was when we had the COVID-19 pandemic but to the best of my recollection when there is not a pandemic you are looking at almost 400 persons being sent to prison for immigration offenses. Yearly.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Since the start of the year 299 people have been convicted for immigration offenses. Of that number the majority were Brazilians, Guatemalans, Mexicans and Haitians. The figure also included people from Europe, Africa and Asia. But for persons who are detained and chose to seek asylum or refugee status there is nowhere to host them. A problem that minister of home affairs Kareem Musa says needs to be addressed.

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: “We certainly have to look at some sort of a detention center for these migrants because we currently do not have one and that is a serious concern but again it’s joint operations carried out by both the police department and the immigration that lead to these arrests of the migrants passing through the country.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: So far this year four people have voluntarily returned home with a government assistance. However for some who have chosen to call Belize their home of the past years there is hope. Next year thousands will be nationalized through the government’s amnesty program.

Diana Locke, Head of International Office Of Migration: “From IOM’s perspective we saw over 5,000 persons. The overall amnesty numbers we’re looking at 12,765 that’s an estimate that we have so far and we stand ready, we will continue to support the government with this process. We are in discussions with the Department of Nationality and Passports as approvals begin to become available where support is needed to get cards back into the communities this is an area that we are looking at, we are discussing with them how best we can assist them in doing this with the resources the current resources that we have in this particular year of our program.”

Vejea Alvarez, Love News: All in all while Belize continues to do its part to curb the influx of irregular migration people will continue to leave their homes and transit through countries like Belize in hopes of seeking a better life.

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