A Sitting of the Senate took place today in Belmopan as the Bills and Motions brought over from Friday’s House Meeting are being debated for ratification. One of the major debates this morning had to do with the border jumpers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government of Belize is seeking to increase the penalties for those coming in and out of the country illegally via the informal crossings in the north, west and south. According to Government Senator Michael Peyrefitte once the Bill is ratified the border jumpers caught would go straight to prison following any testing or quarantine protocols required. Meanwhile Senator for the Private Sector Mark Lizarraga rose to criticize the move, saying it is a little too late to try to contain the illegal crossings.
Hon. Sen. Michael Peyrefitte: “The process is set out right in the SI that we just passed the motion on. It sets out very clearly what happens when you grab a border jumper. A border jumper is grabbed by the security forces, the Ministry of Health is immediately alerted while that person remains in place whether on the side of the road or in the bush or if we have some place in the police department or some other building where we can isolate that person we isolate that person until the Ministry of Health arrives. The Ministry of Health then tests that person to determine on the spot with a rapid test what is the situation with that individual. That individual is then put into mandatory quarantine and after the test shows that that person is COVID negative that is when the person is sent to the Magistrate’s court. In the event that the Magistrate did not grant bail then the person would not go to the prison being infected with COVID-19 and thereby preventing a community spread within the prison it self. It’s spelled out right there in the regulation.”
Senator Mark Lizarraga: “While I don’t lay all the blame at the feet of our security forces the government must recognize that it has a responsibility, a responsibility for security especially security from outside threats that is a given. And it is unfortunate colleague as you rightly say that it’s an election year because we know of these things that have been happening in these communities for so long and we failed to address them. We knew the risks. Remember this thing start from March we started talking about that risk from border jumping and yes much has been done and kudos to those efforts that were done and I hate to sound like it’s Monday morning quarterbacking but more should have and could have been done and now today after the horse is out the gate we’re trying to now put in what many will define as draconian but I believe they are measures that we have to take and the message has to be sent in the loudest possible voice that if you participate in this type of activity you are risking not only our health as is clearly visible right now but you’re further putting at risk our economic health and survival.”
Senator Peyrefitte says that another part of the plan for border jumpers has to do with the quarantine areas being explored by the Government. The areas being looked at are somewhat remote which would prevent the persistent escape of border jumpers from the quarantine facilities.
Hon. Sen. Michael Peyrefitte: “To address another concern that we had indeed and I’m surprised you didn’t mention Billy White but that’s not in Cayo North that’s in Cayo Northeast. There was a proposal for a school that’s no longer in use for a quarantine center to go there but for the very same reasons that Senator Chebat mentioned we decided not to put it there. Two weeks ago Cabinet had approved some funding and just yesterday we approved the beefing up of the facilities at the De Silva Camp in the Mountain Pine Ridge area far away and secluded where these border jumpers would be taken directly to, tested along with the Ministry of Health and only when they are deemed to be COVID negative will they be brought to the court to be arraigned before the magistrate and in the event that they are granted bail by the Supreme Court the plan is that by then the time would pass enough for that person to be deemed COVID negative before entering the general population. To answer what I think Senator Lizarraga – just to complete Senator Chebat – there will be a facility that can house up to close to one hundred people at the same time in the Baldy Beacon area well guarded by the Belize Defence Force, funding for some specialized vehicles to take them up there given the road conditions and for additional security to protect those people. So instead of having quarantine centers in the south, north, east and west you’ll have one center that deals strictly with people who have broken the law.”
Rising in today’s sitting was PUP Senator Isabel Bennett who noted that the authorities need to understand that the reason the contraband activities and illegal crossings are happening is because there is a need to feed their families.
Senator Isabel Bennett: “It is not doubt that we’re here because we need to take action in respect to our situation concerning COVID and yes we need to tighten down the laws but as always when we make amendments to laws it simple means then that other sectors of the society is impacted. My concern for this bill is and I guess the other side can explain given what we have before us right now, if we have increased numbers of offenders if they’re the bread winner of the home or if it’s a mother or a single father or a single mother what happens to the children ? That’s my concern and have we thought it out to the point whereby they fully understand, society fully understands where a social worker will step in and they will be provided for ? The mental health of our people is very paramount at this time and so as we think about the law and we try to activate measures to be able to hold people responsible for their actions we need to be able to be responsible as a government to be able to explain to the people what would happen. So my suggestion therefore would be since we do not have enough social workers in this country , we do not have enough nurses in this country please let’s activate volunteers in every community so that there can be a community worker in order to safe guard the children that will be left behind if their parent becomes desperate in order to get food and become a border jumper- unfortunately that is happening. I will also advise that countrywide we ask for volunteers to be on line because obviously we’re having issues just calling the basic numbers to get a COVID test. If we have volunteers countrywide at least that can afford people in the country to be able to have a listening ear as they go through this gruesome, cruel hard time. And I’m asking the government to please as we think about the laws again and we make the necessary amendments to try to curtail what is happening that we at least work much more with the village councils in order to establish food securities in each village. If we start to think about established community gardens that can help in order to help relieve stress, provide food on the table and definitely some sort of mental avenue to cope with the stressors of this pandemic.”