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May 18, 2016

Government Revisits Refugee Program

There was very significant news coming out of Cabinet on Tuesday, via a release sent to us via email three minutes before news time. It clarified that there is no formal agreement between government and the N.G.O. Help for Progress which has been facilitating immigrant applications for refugee status for the past months. Cabinet throws the N.G.O. under the bus of state, stating that, quote “Any entity other than the duly authorized Refugee Eligibility Committee involved in processing applications for refugee status considerations, should cease and desist from such activity,” end quote. So why the extreme about turn by G.O.B., and what does that mean for immigrants who have already applied for refugee status? We spoke to Minister of State in Immigration Beverly Castillo this evening via phone. She states, quite frankly, that the scrutiny messed up the status quo.

 

On the Phone: Beverly Castillo, Minister of State, Immigration

“The heightened attention that this matter is getting in the media, cabinet made the decision to look specifically at what is the matter at hand and it is a matter now for stock-taking to determine where we are and to really assess and analyze and then all the data to be presented to cabinet for policy decision on moving forward.”

 

Mike Rudon

“Is it the case that perhaps, because I know that there has already been some sort of review of an amount of applications so far, will it be a matter of rescinding those?”

 

On the Phone: Beverly Castillo

“No, those were registrations where people entered the office, and registered as refugees and they are then passed on the immigration for interviews and it is at that time that their status is determined—whether they would be eligible for refugee or not.”

 

Mike Rudon

“Okay. In terms of the UNHCR, I know that the release specifically makes reference to Help for Progress, but that is a separate entity from the UNHCR. Will the UNHCR still play a role in the refugee area?”

 

On the Phone: Beverly Castillo

“UNHCR is in Belize right now. They do sit in the office for the Programme of Belize, but it is really to provide technical assistance to Belize. As you are aware, UNHCR is a very reputable organization and they have the capacity and the expertise and government is receiving that technical assistance. You would be aware that we have established the department of refugee so this matter was being attempted by cabinet but now it is fast tracked with the appointment of Miss Marion as Director of Refugees. And so we are still relying on UNHCR for that technical assistance in developing the capacity to bring that office to a fully functional office to take on the responsibilities as provided for under the Refugee Act.”

 

Mike Rudon

“Now finally, until there is an analysis or a policy statement by cabinet, is the program on a sort of hold status?”

 

On the Phone: Beverly Castillo

“Umm…no. Those persons who need protection can come to the Department of Refugees to look at their status; we’ll be receiving those registrations and will be processing in the normal course with the assistance of UNHCR. It is just that government feels at this time that we should take control of that function as to step back, do the stock taking and look at moving forward so that we can be in compliance with the Convention on Refugees and the requirements of the Refugee Act to make sure that we do it properly.”

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