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Minister of Foreign Affairs Comments on Belize’s Refugee Issue

Tens of thousands of immigrants have made Belize their home with a high number of them undocumented. It is the result of a built up of neglect at the Ministry of Immigration. This is according to the current minister, Eamon Courtenay who lamented on the lack of attention given under the previous leadership.

Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “We get into government and you inherit a state of affairs and one of the ministries that has been neglected by the United Democratic Party was immigration. Significantly and severely neglected. There is an estimate from anywhere from forty to eighty thousand illegal people in Belize. Forty to eighty thousand illegal. The refugee situation. The process is a person seeks refugee status, asylum and there’s a process which they’re interviewed, the veracity of their story is tested, there’s a refugee eligibility committee which assesses each applicant and then makes a recommendation to the minister. The previous minister refused to either approve or disapprove and so there’s a build up, significant build up. Now bear in mind that all those people are here. When they stay under the radar what happens is that they are susceptible to being abused by employers. Because I know you don’t have papers I won’t pay you one hundred and fifty, two hundred dollars a week I’ll pay you seventy five. You need a job you don’t want a report being made that Mr.So and So is here illegal. So I paint that picture to say to you that with the support of the Cabinet we have taken decisions on all of these issues, we’re addressing the refugee situation, the person in charge of Central America from Panama came two weeks ago we had a constructive meeting to deal with that. People who are stuck in the process Cabinet took a decision that we would issue a special permit to allow them to work only in sugar, citrus and banana industries rather than continuing to import two thousand, three thousand workers every year so we allow them whilst they’re here and whilst their process is working out to work. We have critically moved to an electronic ID for permanent residents because of corruption and illegality that was taking place there so that that card will have security features and so people who currently have permanent resident cards issued under the old regime are encouraged to come in. It’s a fee of three hundred dollars because of the cost of the card but we are moving people onto a  more secure system with that.”

Minister Courtenay goes on to explain that Belize’s immigration is looking to improve the register of permanent residents in Belize via a special card with security features.