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Jan 20, 2022

Thirty-Seven Persons Flagged at The P.G.I.A. For Immigration Offenses

Even as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was welcoming Costa Rica Foreign Minister to Belize on Tuesday, on that same COPA flight were thirty-seven persons who were flagged at the P.G.I.A. for immigration offenses. Today, the Ministry of Immigration officially revealed details surrounding those passengers who were refused leave to land in Belize and must be returned to Panama. Tonight, we can confirm that all preparations have been made with respective authorities for these individuals to be returned to the last port of embarkation. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

The introduction of COPA Airlines to Belize has been welcomed as a boon for tourism, but along with this comes the risk of South Americans attempting to circumvent immigration rules. On Tuesday, onboard a passenger aircraft, thirty-five Venezuelans, one Moroccan and one Dominican Republican were flagged at the Philip Goldson International Airport. Twenty-one were men, nine females and seven children, but it was a one-way ticket to Belize from Panama that was the first red flag that caught the attention of immigration officials – not to mention fake hotel reservations.


Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Immigration

“No return ticket or cancelation of tickets upon arrival to Belize, little or no funds to sustain themselves, bogus hotel reservations when the hotels were contacted.

because they were inadmissible and in accordance with standard practice, notices of forbidden landing were served on the manager of COPA airlines. Consequently these thirty-seven persons were boarded on COPA Airlines flight to be returned to panama.”


…but their returned to Panama via the same COPA flight did not run smoothly.


Eamon Courtenay

“Whilst onboard the flight, the [passenger] of the Dominican Republic objected to being returned to Panama and became disruptive. He started inciting the other persons who were being returned and they became unruly. As a result of this, the pilot refused to transport them to Panama as they presented ad security risk.”


Since there is no detention facility for immigration violators, the adults were taken to and held at the Queen Street Police Station, while the minors were transported to the Dorothy Menzies Children’s Home, on the advice of the Department of Human Services.


Orson Elrington

Orson Elrington, Attorney for Migrants

“What is very disturbing in this situation and the reason that I believe you guys are here is because there are some serious human rights violations which are happening in this situation.  First and foremost, my clients have informed me that they have, from since yesterday, they were given food once, denied water and not given food and only given food once at about 9:30 last night.  They have been treated inhumanely, have been subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment – treatment which does not comply with simple human rights standards.”


Eamon Courtenay

“A team of officers were deployed to the P.G.I.A. to maintain law and order and to protect our immigration officers and to assist with the transportation of the persons. Before leaving the P.G.I.A., the detainees were served food and water at approximately seven p.m. The twenty-one males and four females were transported to the Queen Street Police Station. The other five females and seven children were escorted to the Dorothy Menzies Children’s Home.”


With the next COPA flight scheduled for Saturday, January twenty-second, the planned departure on Wednesday was not as simple.  Venezuelans are not allowed to transit Guatemala due to recently imposed visa requirements so that option was ruled out and TAG Airlines also refused to transport the group to Panama. So on Wednesday afternoon, a meeting held between Belize Immigration officials and principals from COPA Airlines charted a course of action to return these persons to Panama. Minister of Immigration Eamon Courtenay breaks down what will happen.


Eamon Courtenay

“As is required by section thirty-five of the Immigration Act. COPA representatives agreed that they would arrange for the following: hotel accommodation, food and water, return flight and police guard. COPA also agreed to request permission from the Guatemalan authorities for the national from the Dominican Republic, who would not need a visa, to be returned to Panama on TAG Airlines before and apart from the others so as to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred on the eighteenth of January. The COPA agents also requested that the Dominica Republic national be escorted by police and immigration to panama. Permission is also being sought by TAG for the return of the Moroccan to Panama by TAG airlines via Guatemala. All these detainees are being transported as we speak to the Biltmore Hotel where they will remain under guard until they have left Belize. All expenses will be met by COPA.”


While the country from which the group originated was not disclosed, News Five has been reliably informed that they got to Panama from Colombia. Duane Moody for News Five.


Diplomatic representatives from the Government of Venezuela interviewed their nationals on Wednesday. U.N.H.C.R. had also requested access to the detained persons, which was granted today.

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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