Belize defends decision to impose restrictions on Haitians and Jamaicans

BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) – Belize immigration officials have defended the decision to impose visa and other restrictions on Jamaicans and Haitians entering the country, insisting that they are not attempting to restrict anyone who intends to come to Belize legitimately.

The government last week said it would invoke Article 226 (a) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which governs the regional integration movement Caricom.

The John Briceno government said that invoking the article will allow for the Minister of Immigration to immediately impose a visa requirement for Haitians wishing to visit Belize.

Jamaicans will have to provide evidence of fully paid non-refundable hotel reservations prior to boarding flights to Belize.

The authorities said that over 2,000 Haitian nationals entered Belize between March 2022 and April this year and that over 1,900 had vanished without a trace, presumably crossing over into Mexico illegally, en route to the United States.

Chief executive officer in the Ministry of Immigration, Dr Gilroy Middleton, said the situation with Jamaicans disappearing after entering Belize is also similar, except that it involves a considerably smaller number.

“In respect of the Jamaicans, the numbers are similar but we haven’t reached a tipping point as in respect of the Haitians. In respect of the Jamaicans, we’ve had some 1,673 Jamaicans entering via the PGIA (Philip S W Goldson International Airport) primarily, since January 2022. To date, of that 1,673 we’ve had some 788 depart through one of our legal border crossings, so that left some 895 Jamaicans who have not exited through our northern border point of exit or any other of our formal border points,” Dr Middleton explained.

He said that there are 1,974 Haitians and 895 Jamaicans unaccounted for since January 2022.

“So that’s about 50 per cent less Jamaicans, hence we are not looking at that visa restriction for the Jamaicans,” Dr Middleton stated, adding that Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Courtenay will be working on a subcommittee of Cabinet that will be working and looking at the issues.

“It must be noted that we are not attempting to restrict any Jamaicans or Haitians who intend to come to Belize legitimately. These individuals have rights under the Treaty of Chaguaramas which will be respected and which, from an immigration point of view, we will facilitate. However, we must ensure the national security of Belize,” he said, describing as “false,” reports that Belize had imposed additional restrictions on Jamaicans.

Middleton said Belize is also concerned at the number of Haitians entering the country and crossing over into Mexico illegally, en route to the United States given that many “haven’t left via the northern border, western border, southern border or any other of our entry and exit points.

“The theory is that they went north. So after we provided visa-free access to Haitians as per our Caricom obligations, this has been the result. Therefore, looking at the numbers, it was recommended that that specific visa be reinstated. So that was the result of the Haitian visas being reinstated,” he said, adding that the Foreign Affairs Minister has formally informed Caricom of the decision.

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