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Last group of Venezuelans in immigration debacle sent to Panama

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Posted: Monday, January 31, 2022. 2:35 pm CST.

By Benjamin Flowers: Over the weekend, 10 Venezuelan nationals who did not meet requirements to land in Belize have been sent to Panama, according to the Government of Belize.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration, notes that the Venezuelans had originally traveled to Belize from Panama, in a much larger group and were detained at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel at the expense of COPA Airlines until they were cleared to fly were returned to Panama via TAG Airlines.

The group was denied entry to Belize after failing to fulfill immigration requirements on January 18. Notably, they all tested negative for COVID-19 before their departure.

The Ministry said that on Saturday, January 28, it had received a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) National Office, that seven of the group of 10 be handed over to the office as they had expressed an interest in seeking asylum in Belize, but noted that “UNHCR is not in a position to secure the stay of these asylum seekers in the Help for Progress shelter”.

The Ministry noted that none of the group had initially claimed to be seeking asylum and that their immigration forms claimed they were in Belize for tourism purposes.

“They had previously been interviewed by UNHCR and did not claim asylum. After eight asylum seekers were handed over to Help for Progress, at the request of the UNHCR, and allowed to escape to Mexico, these seven persons changed their position and wished to apply for asylum. Finally, it is noted that the individuals asserted that they feared for their lives if they were returned to Venezuela. The Ministry of Immigration informed the UNHCR that its request for these seven individuals to be handed over to Help for Progress, without security, was refused,” the Ministry said.

The Ministry also noted that the Venezuelans were not sent back to Venezuela but rather to Panama as they are free to seek asylum there.

After noticing a growing number of migrants arriving in Belize at the PGIA via COPA Airlines, Cabinet has approved the implementation of Visa requirements for travelers coming to Belize from Venezuela, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.

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