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Oct 28, 2019

Belize Learns from Costa Rican Refugee Program

Since 2015, over three thousand asylum seekers from neighbouring Central American countries have applied for refugee status in Belize. The number continues to grow as masses of Central Americans journey to the U.S.  To date, about fifteen persons have been granted refugee status after their cases were considered and received by the Refugee Eligibility Committee. The process of going from asylum seekers to refugee is strict and in the meantime migrants settle in various communities, especially in the western district, where they have managed to successfully integrate into the Belizean society.  Here is a report with Hipolito Novelo.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

After fifteen years of absence in the country and at the request of the Belizean government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, re-opened its door to help the government in the re-establishment of the refugee protection system.  In 2017, Belize joined the cooperation framework on international refugee protection and solutions

 

Andreas Wissner

Andreas Wissner, UNCHR Belize Head of Mission

“Access and protection to Belize has been facing some challenges. That is why the government has been working with us since 2016 to improve this and Belize has been since the early 1990s state party to the Intentional Refugee Convention and has also put in place national legislation.”

 

More than three thousand asylum seekers have applied for refugee status. Up to date, twenty eight persons have been granted such status.

 

Andreas Wissner

“The refugee situation here in Belize is actually stable one in that we have around six thousand persons in need of international protection.”

 

With the mass influx of migrants moving north to the US, Belize is not a typical transit country.

 

Andreas Wissner

“But people who come to Belize normally do so for a reason.”

 

In an effort to strengthen the country’s refugee protection and solutions system, UNCHR along with the Refugees Department partnered with the Costa Rican Refugee Commission with the aim to share information. Andreas Wissner is the UNCHR Belize Head of Mission.

 

Andreas Wissner

“In the mid 2010’s the realization came up that the national refugee structure to  be reactivated in due of research of new refugees who came in mainly from El Salvador in due of the increased gang violence there. Also we have Honduras, few Guatemalans and number of other nationalities who are seeking protection in Belize”

 

As part of the visit, Esteban Lemus and Harold Villegas both members of the Migration Administrative Court of Costa Rica paid a visit to the growing migrant community of Valley of Peace. Lemus agrees with the UNCHR, saying that the mission was successful in bringing the two countries, who are facing similar displacement issues, closer and in sharing best practices that both countries have adopted.

 

Esteban Lemus

Esteban Lemus, Judge Migration Administrative Court of Costa Rica

“The idea of this twinning mission is to give some of the good practices and good examples of the Costa Rican expertise and try to help and give ideas to the Belizean authorities in regards to this matter. We can give our point in views in different ways to solve this situation. The region is having different and complex situation with refugee. We are all part of the Central American situation so it is very important for us to attend this situation as a regional thing and give regional support with different point of views and tradition. Costa Rica has this administrative court since ten years ago which attends the appeals of the applicants and it is a very good practice that the states can have this administrative court that decides not a political decision but a technical decision the situation of the refugee. So the idea of this twinning mission the Belizean people went to Costa Rica last December is to changing of different experiences.”

 

The delegation visited the western border where talks were held with the Border Commander and Immigration authorities regarding challenges faced at the border and current displacement statistics in Belize. The delegation also met with State Minister of Immigration, Beverly Williams. One of the key concerns discussed is the allowing migrants with a gang background to settle in the country.

 

Andreas Wissner

“She also feels certain constraints mainly coming from the perception of public opinion supposedly is not so favorable towards the reception of refugees. However, refugee reception, is an international human rights obligation and it is not for everyone.   I think the fear that many more people would be coming to Belize to overwhelm the country’s coping capacity that is often quoted is not really well founded. For these who qualify, I think Belize will have space. We are talking about six hundred who have already been found to meet the refugee criteria over the past four years. These six hundred can definitely be integrated in their communities. They are here anyways. I would dispute that if there is steady flow of refugee recognition of thirty, forty per month that this would attract some many economic migrants who would enter this procedure because most of them would be rejected anyway. Thos who are accepted can be integrated into their community and can contribute to the welfare of Belize as refugees have always done.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.


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