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Government says it has strengthened passport process and tackled trafficking in persons, but corruption claims persist

Posted: Monday, December 12, 2022. 3:00 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Ministry of Immigration and Nationality faces new alleged claims of corruption at its highest ranks, six years after the Senate’s Special Select Committee addressed similar issues occurring between 2013 and 2015.

Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow asked this morning in the House for the Minister to report what steps the Ministry “is taking to prevent corruption in the department, in particular, human trafficking and the illegal sale of passports to foreign nationals.” A follow-up question zeroing in on the issue of corruption was disallowed for naming a particular individual.

Prime Minister John Briceño, responding for Minister Senator Eamon Courtenay, asked Barrow to present any evidence he had of his claims in at least seven days, saying the Ministry was not aware of any sale of passports to foreign nationals since November 2020.

But he also reminded of Belize’s ascension to the Tier 2 List of the U.S. State Department’s annual report on trafficking in persons. 15 officers form an “elite squad” within the Enforcement Unit of the Ministry and are being trained and vetted on issues related to trafficking in persons.

More than 30 persons have been charged in relation to the smuggling of 280 persons, including 119 Cuban nationals, though no time period for this was given. Visa restrictions were legislated by statutory instruments for entrants from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, and others may be added in the effort to promote safe and effective migrant-friendly policies.

As for passports, the system was bifurcated into border management and nationality and passports. To obtain a passport, one must present either a birth certificate, adoption certificate, nationality certification, or affirmation certificate, and a nationality scrutinizing committee has been established and the identities of applicants presented in the Government Gazette before and after the final ceremony. Those seeking nationality must have permanent residence and are not allowed to stay out of Belize for 30 days consecutively, and the passports department is further separated to invite more eyes into the process.

With the advent of the electronic passport control and issuance system (EPICS), applications are done online when an appointment is first made and the other steps are done in person. The birth certificate system is being digitized at the Vital Statistics Unit and proper data input is necessary (the Prime Minister noted that the sequential order of passports issued ensures that a void passport by error cannot be legally issued; for instance, the Governor-General’s new passport is actually No. 2 in the system).

 

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