Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2022. 2:37 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: After a month of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration’s Amnesty Program, approximately 10 percent of the upper limit of the estimated unregulated migrant population in Belize has applied.
Dr. Gilroy Middleton, C.E.O., Ministry of Immigration, reported last week that more than six thousand applicants, including 3,000 dependents such as spouses and children, have applied for the program. Belize is estimated to have between 40 and 60 thousand unregulated migrants and asylum seekers countrywide, concentrated in the Cayo District and southern districts.
According to Diana Locke, Local Head of Office for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a former Director of Immigration, her office has seen approximately four thousand persons some of whom she says couldn’t afford the application fees for the amnesty.
Locke says finances have become an issue for families who qualify but literally can’t afford it: “[The Government] have been selective in whom they’re going to bring into the amnesty because of the finances. And so, we have had a chance to speak to them and say, no, you can’t be selective. You have to put everyone in. It’s generally the finances just to complete the application process. And that could range, if you find a reasonable service provider, anywhere between 75 to 100 dollars. Or in some places, people are charging service charges which are really exorbitant.”
In conjunction with the Belize offices of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the IOM has taken up the issue of paying for and providing services such as birth certificates, police records and medical records in some villages in the Toledo District, but warns that it may become an issue: “People are not coming out. If you look at the numbers released by the government, those numbers are relatively low. We know that they’re communities that we can’t get to, particularly in the south.”
The organizations last week signed a joint work plan as part of new country programs that will for the first time address the migration issue as it relates to getting adults and children needed services.
The amnesty runs through November and successful applicants will be granted permanent residency. They can then apply after five years for full citizenship.
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