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May 12, 2016

United Nations High Commission for Refugees Speak Out on Local Program

A week ago we told you about a refugee programme operation through the Help for Progress Office in Belmopan. Our cameras showed crowds of people lined up to get their applications processed. Minister of State in Immigration Beverly Castillo explained that the applications were still under review and no decision had been made. To get more clarity on this matter, we reached out the UNHCR, the organization that is mandated to provide protection to refugees. This morning, Katy Tobin explained that the people seeking refugee status are primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They are persons who have been trying to escape from organized forms of extortion, corruption, drug and gang-related warfare among other crimes. Tobin says some of these people are not new to Belize and have been living here for more than a year. Since the program has kick-started to process applications, they are going in to be considered.


Katy Tobin, Senior Protection Associate, UNHCR

“Anyone has the right to apply for asylum. We know that some people had already fled the conflict, maybe a year or two ago. As I said, this is not brand new. It didn’t start just last year. We have been seeing an increase in these in the influence of these criminal organizations over the last several years. Some may have fled their homes a few years ago and reach safety here in Belize. And now that the Refugee Eligibility Committee is active, they are now able to access formal, legal protection.”


Katy Tobin

Marleni Cuellar

“The Refugee Eligibility Committee comprises of both government and non-governmental organizations. Who are some of the members?”


Katy Tobin

“So, there are nine members of the committee and it is defined in the Refugee Act who represents on the eligibility committee. It’s the Ministry of Immigrations that chairs the committee,  the UNHCR has a seat on the committee, as well as the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Human Development, Ministry of National Security,  Ministry Foreign Affairs, and then  we have the Trade Union as a representative, as well as the Belize Council of Churches and the Chamber of Commerce. So, it is really great. It was lovely for me to get the opportunity to work with this committee and get representation from so many different sectors within society coming together to decide who is worthy of protection. So, I think it is really a great model that Belize has established.”


Marleni Cuellar

“And in the past five meetings that have been held with this committee, it has been primarily training them to be able to process applications?”


Katy Tobin

“Well, we have done periodic trainings. The last one was actually last month. When we meet, we meet monthly for the duration of the day to make decisions on individual cases.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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