The focus of the Amnesty 2022 are as follows:
- Managing Migration
- National Security
- Economic Development
- Humanitarian Assistance
The purpose of action if to address the issue of migrants who are residing in Belize illegally, or recommended asylum seekers. Those who qualify for the amnesty would be offered Permanent Residence status with a path to citizenship.
- Over the past decade or so, there has been a significant increase in migration, both legal and illegal , throughout the world, the Central American region included. The figures are staggering. According to World Migration Report 2020.
The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population.
Overall, the estimated number of international migrants has increased over the past five decades. The total estimated 281 million people living in a country other than their countries of birth in 2020 was 128 million more than in 1990, and over three times the estimated number in 1970.
Migration to Northern America is a key feature in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. In 2019, over 26 million migrants had made the journey north and were residing in Northern America.
Several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have undergone considerable population change over the last decade. Figure 20 shows the 20 countries in the region which have experienced the largest proportional population change from 2009 to 2019. All the top 20 countries experienced an increase in the size of their populations during this period, with the largest proportional population changes occurring in Central America. Belize had the greatest percentage change, with its population increasing by 24 per cent from 2009 to 2019. It was followed by Guatemala and Honduras, whose populations grew by nearly 23 and 20 per cent respectively.
- The government of Ecuador estimated that the number of Venezuelans residing in Ecuador likely exceeded 380,000 as of September 10, 2019. At September, 2019 the government had issued visas to approximately 120,000 Venezuelans. The government began a nationwide registration and regularization process on September 26, 2019, which ended March 31, 2020. At October 27, 2019 the Migration Secretariat of the Ministry of Government had registered more than 125,000 Venezuelans–the first step required to regularize status. On October 26, 2019 the Foreign Ministry began issuing two-year humanitarian visas to those registered as the next step in the regularization process. (Source – US Department of State 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ecuador)
- In 2021 Colombia implemented the Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuela Migrants (TPS), which sought to regularize more than 1.8 million Venezuela migrants with a path to citizenship in 10 years. The Statute allowed Colombia to provide the migrant population with decent living conditions, transparent access to state institutions, as well as access to COVID 19-vaccines and assist with their integration into the Colombian economy and labor market. The TPS was coherent with the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) and offered protections that are consistent with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). It complemented the international refugee protection regime, contributing towards a safe, orderly and regular migration, and represents a contribution from Colombia to the improvement of the global migration governance. (Source – U.S. Colombia Ministerial Migration Meeting on 20 October 2021 Concept Note)
- Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne informed that his administration was considering granting an amnesty to illegal migrants as he urged all people on the island to work together to help Antigua and Barbuda rebound economically and socially from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “We don’t want anybody to be in a situation where they cannot contribute…so that’s a discussion I will be having with my colleagues next week…and they will tell me whether or not we give an amnesty to the immigrants who are here”. Browne said that Antigua and Barbuda has always had to deal with migrants who have been in the country for more than 15 years and are “now well integrated in our society, they have homes, they work and they have children. “We have to be flexible enough to allow for some form of integration of these individuals in society as we seek to get the contribution of all. (Source – Jamaican Gleaner December 13, 2021)
- Most of the migrants who have settled in Belize are from the neighbouring republics with increasing numbers from Haiti, China and Africa. Migrants from the Central American Republics are, in the main, fleeing gang-related violence and seeking employment opportunities. Migrants from Haiti are fleeing political related violence, ungovernability and economic opportunities, whilst those from China are primarily seeking economic opportunities.
- The 2010 Census by the Statistical Institute of Belize found that 14.2% of Belize’s population was born abroad. However, this percentage doesn’t begin to reflect the number of undocumented migrants who moved to Belize during the past two decades. The SIB does not have any statistics of the number of undocumented migrants in Belize. Therefore, accurate projections of social assistance, losses in tax revenue, increasing social impacts, and unbalanced access to social services are impossible.
- The Belize Refugee Department with support of United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has been responsible for the registration and processing of asylum cases in Belize. The Registration system shows that there are 4,104 persons registered to claim refugee status. However, only 74 have been confirmed as refugees resulting in over 4,030 with an asylum seeker status.
- Belize has had two amnesties. The first was in late April 1984, where eight thousand six hundred and eighty (8,680) undocumented migrants were registered. Fifteen years later in 1999, another integration exercise resulted in granting approximately eleven thousand one hundred and sixty-eight (11,168) newly registered migrants, permanent residence. Yet another exercise was planned for 2010 when an estimate of over 20,000 undocumented migrants were expected to be registered. Unfortunately, the amnesty never occurred.
- Whilst some of the migrants have since 2010 regularized their status, it is believed that many more have entered the country and have an irregular immigration status. Using the figures from the two amnesties and the estimate in 2010, the Ministry of Immigration estimates that the number of irregular migrants in Belize in 2021 would be approximately 40,000-60,000 migrants.
- Irregular migration breeds illegality and abuse. Many migrants find themselves victims of human trafficking – modern day slavery. Irregular migrants, because of their vulnerability, are often employed at very low wages, and work in dreadful conditions, additionally, many are paid ‘off the books’ and therefore generate little tax revenue. Some of the migrants are gang members or former gang members and engage in serious criminal activities in Belize. Many have children in Belize and enter relationships which leads to complications. There are families where both or one parent is irregular, but their children are regular. Registering the children in school exposes the parents, and there is a tendency not to enroll them. Of course, any irregular migrants access social and other services and therefore add to the cost-of-service delivery.
- It is emphasized that migrants contribute positively to Belize and the economy. They work in many sectors of the economy, and many operate small and micro businesses contributing to economic activity and employment.