Refugee Department Confronts Misinformation Challenge on Social Media
Current figures on the refugee front indicates that the current number of refugees in Belize is an estimated three hundred. Speaking on the data, and the issue of refugees, on a whole, was the Legal Protection Officer in the Refugees Department, Nikolai Zelaya.
Nikolai Zelaya, Legal Protection Officer, Refugees Department: “The fact is, nobody wants to be a refugee. Nobody wakes up and decides today I will be a refugee. It is something that is forced upon you and Belizeans in general don’t realize that maybe one day, we might be refugees. Social inclusion is something that we push a lot. It’s something that we try to get the public to understand both local and the foreigners that are coming in. Social inclusion is very, very important. So if we go and we, for example, set up a football match between the people who live in a refugee village if we will call it that, they’re not going to play only with themselves, they also play with the Belizeans who live there and that is a good step towards social inclusion. Education, your child is going to school with a refugee if you know it or not. It happens anyway. So we just ask that the general public to keep an open mind.”
Another issue that Zelaya spoke on was the misinformation that is spread on thev varoious social media platforms. He says this is an issue that the department faces regularly.
Nikolai Zelaya, Legal Protection Officer, Refugees Department: “I think one of the biggest problems we have, issues we have is misinformation. People tend to listen to what the neighbor down the street says rather than getting it from the official source. Today I saw on Facebook somebody was asking, how do you get a one day pass? And the first comment says, which border? You have to be more specific than that. For Northern border simply the Mexican immigration does not take a one-day pass so there is no point to it. But people still come to the border asking for it, goes back to misinformation. Another good example is when you hear people on the streets say “You all deal with refugees ? Those people come to take our job.” The fact is that in this country presently we have no more than 300 recognized refugees. 300 people will not make a significant dent in the labor force, in the workforce. Another good example of misinformation is when the amnesty program was starting up and it was said that they expect something in the region of 45,000 to 48,000 applicants. If you think about it that’s one tenth of the population of this country. The number itself is not possible. When the amnesty people were done taking all their applications they realized that they didn’t have even a quarter of that number. So they extended it for an additional three months. They said maybe people were afraid to come in, or for whatever reason, they didn’t come in. They extended it and at the end of the time they still had 12,000, I believe 12,500 more or less persons which is a far cry from 48,000 people. Misinformation. And to further add to misinformation we have another little issue, lack of information. There is so much that the ministry does but the public does not know about it. Maybe we need to be a little bit more out there and show the public what it is that we do.”
Zelaya appeared on the Galen Hour Show on Love Television last night.