The system that exists in Belize regarding the acceptance of refugees into the country has been dormant for about two decades; that is until last year when Immigration Minister, Godwin Hulse reactivated the eligibility committee. Despite the committee’s absence for so many years, the flow of immigrants to Belize was continuous and today, there are many who are in Belize without proper documentation. According to the UNHCR Representative to Belize, Soufiane Adjali, it is important to deal with the immigrants who are said to be seeking asylum in Belize.
“Our role is to guide the government in the best way but also look at the interests of the country. While there is international law that needs to be respected.”
“Where are we currently as a country, as Belize, where are we in terms of the amount of refugees or the amount of persons that have applied for refugee status?”
“You have a situation which is particular you have people who have entered Belize and within fourteen days have sought asylum. The numbers are not exponential and are not yet known because there is an assessment being done by the department of refugees but there are also people who have been in country for quite some time and didn’t know that they could seek asylum. As you know for 20 years the system of asylum was not really functioning and only in November 2015 the government of Belize under the leadership of the Prime Minister and Minister Hulse they have reinstated the refugee eligibility committee and under the impulsion of Minister Williams the department for refugees has been established effectively in March of 2016. So now its a matter of knowing what do we do with people that didn’t know where to go before and do not meet the fourteen day deadline.”
High Commissioner Adjali says that the UNHCR will be providing support to Belize in getting the system and the processing up to par.
“Not everybody is a refugee as you know, we are not here to say that everyone is a refugee but we need a functioning refugee status meaning we need a functioning mechanism that can allow us to distinguish a migrant from a refugee and this is where we are advising and providing assistance. We have been helping the department of refugees to have all the equipment necessary and we are ready next year to support the government of Belize in getting staffing, at least one more person that can interview and one more registration personnel that can help to register and prioritize the appointments.”
Love News asked High Commissioner Adjali to explain how it can be determined whether an individual is truly seeking asylum or is just voluntarily migrating from his or her native country.
“Seeking asylum is a personal decision, the person that goes and seeks asylum and claims that he fears for his life and her freedom or her life for five reasons. A person that has escaped from his country or her country may have a well-founded fear of persecution, this well-founded fear is determined in the interview but also with objective elements based on the country of origin, information that is available which means the situation in the country should be known. The five criteria you can be persecuted because you belong to a social group that is targeted, you can also be persecuted because of your race, nationality, political opinion but also because of your religion and in that case it is important. It’s not 14 days that determines a refugee it’s really the fear for their lives and freedom. For example now a days our biggest concern is in some countries a person that may have been raped will be having a baby because abortion is forbidden and if the abortion is practiced a disproportionate sentence will be applicable which is a life imprisonment for a women that will not want to keep a child that was not welcomed, that is the situation that we may have so what is this person? Is she a refugee or not we will have to go through a whole process to determine this. It is not easy to be a refugee.”
High Commissioner Adjali term has recently ended in Belize. His successor is expected to arrive in the country in early 2017.