The rollout of the Amnesty Program is now only a few weeks away. Agencies have been collaborating on the official rollout including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UNHCR, and the Ministry of Immigration. Speaking in Spanish Lookout for the opening of the 7th annual expo was Immigration Minister, Eamon Courtenay who sounded the alarm that Belize is being swarmed with migrants looking for work.
Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “The Government of Belize believes, pure and simple, that belizeans should be offered employment before foreigners, pure and simple. We also recognise that there are instances where it is necessary to welcome foreign workers, for example, where expertise is needed, where vacancies cannot be filled after advertising. In such instances, in keeping with established procedures, employment permits will be issued and workers will be welcome. The Ministries of Immigration and Labour are working hard to modernise and streamline the application process to make them more transparent and efficient but, ladies and gentlemen, we have problems. The number of migrants flowing through Central America is at an all time high. Many migrants are illegally entering Belize seeking temporary employment and being employed before they make their way northwards. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, we found and apprehended more than 50 persons and we know that the number of persons who we do not catch is far bigger than 50. We see the same hotels, the same guesthouses, the same taximen, the same bus owners, providing comfort to these people. Migration flows are a serious problem for Belize and it requires a measured and targeted response. We also have business people, regrettably, who actively recruit workers from Central America to work in the agricultural sector. Many of them do not meet the immigration entry requirements. Many of these migrants are then kept in subhuman conditions and paid scandalously low wages. We have an increase in the number of child labour. Underaged children, who should be in school, are toiling in fields for a pitance. To quote John F. Kennedy, let the word go forth from this time and place, that the Government of Belize will not tolerate this much longer. We will fight child labour. We will fight human trafficking and we will fight for a living wage for all lawful workers. We acknowledge that a respectable and legal migrant worker programme is necessary. It has worked before and it can work again. I am appealing. I repeat. I am appealing to employers in the agricultural sector to work with us to ensure that we do not get sanctioned because of poor migration and labour practices.”