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May 10, 2016

Trade Union Congress Weighs in on Refugee Eligibility Committee

The present refugee situation in Belize is another hot-button issue making headlines tonight.  News of an amnesty program for irregular migrants and for persons with illegal immigration status was initially reported late last week.  Since then a number of non-government organizations, including the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, have weighed in on the issue, saying that they have not met even though they’re named as part of the Refugee Eligibility Committee.  This afternoon, government issued a release shedding light on the matter.  Former Director of Immigration Maria Marin has recently been appointed chair of the committee and the group chosen to do the task comprises of eight other members. According to President Marvin Mora, the committee was never engaged prior to any decision or action being taken to commence the program.  G.O.B., on the other hand, says that no such amnesty program exists.  While government maintains that the Refugee Eligibility Committee was simply reactivated in June 2015 after several years of inertia, Mora says that a formal system needs to be instituted to vet all applicants.

 

Marvin Mora

Marvin Mora, President, N.T.U.C.B.

“I got a call from our rep and the rep does sit on a committee that’s called the Refugee and Asylum Committee and it appears that there was a meeting today or a press conference being held by Mrs. Beverly Castillo and in that meeting they might be trying to clarify the issue from their vantage [point], as to why is it that that committee was not engaged.  But we don’t see why the committee would be bypassed because the sole name of the committee implies that anything that has to do with refugees and asylum for those refugees ought to go through that committee before it is somebody else’s process.  That has to be recommended by that committee or that committee has to vet a process so that whosoever comes to Belize requesting asylum can go through that formal process and all the documentation that is needed and all that needs to be sufficed within that process is addressed before that person can be given a green light to stay in our country.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Do you believe that the government may have erred in not fully making the public and of course the respective stakeholders aware of this particular program and what it seeks to do?”

 

Marvin Mora

“I believe that they may have erred.  I also believe that if they have erred they are [still] within their right to carry on with government functions.  But I also believe that they owe it to the country, not only to explain why they are doing these things, how they are doing these things but how much it is costing us; one, and what can we expect would be the results of these types of programs?  Like I explained in our last interview, we are supposed to be concerned because we do not know anything about these people that are coming into our country and we don’t know about any process that is set up that can do background checks that deals with their records, as far as the law is concerned.  Whether they are criminals in their country and they are coming across or what, in terms of their health, we are suppose to be concerned about because whatever issues they have with health, eventually we as a country would have to tackle that as well because they become part of our society.  So there are more questions than answers when it comes to dealing with a program of this magnitude and of this nature.”

 

To date, the Refugee Eligibility Committee has vetted and recommended ninety-two applications.  Government says those requests have been tendered to the Minister of Immigration for the granting of refugee status.  Help for Progress, which represents the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has the responsibility to receive applications from potential asylum seekers and conduct an initial interview. Those applicants who meet the criteria for refugee status are then referred to the Immigration Department, where a second interview is done and the successful applicants are given an appointment for a more in-depth interview. The asylum seeker is then given a Special Permit which is valid until the time of the in-depth interview in order to allow him legal status in Belize.  It is only after the in-depth interview that the applicants’ documents are forwarded to the Refugee Eligibility Committee for consideration and, thereafter, those recommended for refugee status are submitted to the Minister of Immigration for approval. To date, forty files have been reviewed at the ministry; however, the Minister of Immigration is yet to grant any refugee status.

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