About ten days ago, an article was published online that spoke of Belize as a haven for Central American countries particularly, El Salvador. The article cited Valley of Peace Village, Cayo District as being one of the popular areas for these refugees to seek safety from the murderous street gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 that commit crimes ranging from murder and extortion to kidnapping and drug dealing. The Valley of Peace Village falls under the Cayo South constituency led by Area Representative Julius Espat. According to Espat, the village was developed primarily for these refugees.
“The reason the Valley of Peace was formed was because George Price at the time being a Christian man that he was linked up with the United Nations at the time which was the late 70s early 80s understanding that there was a crisis in Central America where thousands of people were being massacred, participated in a refugee program ended up being that George Price gave a portion of the Cayo District which was the Valley of Peace area as one of the areas where the refugees could establish as families. In my opinion that was a legal way, a formal way of accepting refugees who are true refugees and it has now developed in a very positive thing. That is different from giving nationality to people who are in jail that you don’t know, that is different from illegally selling passports and collecting $2,000 as a minister of government totally different so I want to make that clear. Now these people have becoming positive citizens in our country, they are producers. Recently it has not been a civil war that has been experienced in El Salvador and other nations it has been a crime war where the gangs of the Salvatruchas and the Calle 18 gangs have taken over these countries.”
Espat says that the problem and threats are real for many of the relatives of many of his constituents. What is even more alarming is that the criminal presence from Salvador is also creeping into Belize.
“I know personally of people that they go to their homes and they tell them ‘ I know that your daughter is in Belize.’ ‘I know your son is in Belize, Miami or Los Angeles.’ ‘I know that they are there making money so therefore I am requesting and insisting that every week when we come here you have to give us $100 and these are poor families that can afford anything and if you don’t do it I will kill one of your family members. And it has happened where family members have been killed because of this and therefore they end up not selling because they can’t sell anything they end up abandoning their entire and they come to visit the family members here in Belize. So yes you do have family members here that are concerned that this crime is a problem but what has also happened is that some of these same gang members have crossed the borders and are in Belize. Maya Mopan has some, Salvapan in Belmopan has some, we have seen some in Cayo South and the police have done some of the work. I know that the US embassy also has been monitoring the situation because it also affects them; you know Belize is always a stepping stone towards the United States. But government cannot just keep a blind eye we have to decide what we are going to do. If they are here illegally it doesn’t help anybody, if they are here and you want to make it legal then what to do ? Government has to set up a policy they can’t just run away from this our borders are porous they can come in through the Chiquibul, through Melchor, through anywhere they want and so that is what leadership is about, we have to sit down and analyze the situation. The United Nations is here to give a lending hand but the United Nations does not only look at Belize they have interests in every country, we have to establish what is in our interest and work in agreement or coordination with the United Nations to settle the problem but the refugee problem is not one unique to Belize. Europe has a major problem with it right now. Germany is being attacked because Chancellor Merkel opened the borders to refugees. Great Britain seems to want to stop it. Every country has it, America says it wants to build a wall so everybody has it. Mexico even though they don’t want the wall they have a mini wall with Guatemala. You have to understand each country and their dynamics and we are not living in a cocoon and so I believe government has to really and truly doe what is that they have been put there to do and come up with a policy that is beneficial to our country.”
The system that exists in Belize regarding the acceptance of refugees into the country has been dormant for about two decades; that is until 2015 when Immigration Minister, Godwin Hulse reactivated the eligibility committee. Up to a few months ago, however, Minister of State, Beverly Williams noted to the media that they are yet to grant refugee status to any of the applicants.