Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Venezuelan “asylum seekers” escape shelter assigned by UNHCR


A group of eight Venezuelan nationals who reportedly were seeking refugee status in Belize are missing and believed to have escaped to Mexico. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Belize assisted them when in captivity. They were among 38 persons deemed inadmissible into Belize on January 18th after arriving at the Philip Goldson International Airport from Panama. Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Immigration registry have expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of the situation.

On Monday, January 24th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and Immigration sent out a release titled ‘So-called Asylum Seekers Escape from UNHCR.’ The release pointed out that they left the shelter they were staying at and apparently made their way to Mexico. It was also revealed that the Venezuelan nationals never visited the Refugees Department to apply for asylum.

As a result, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration, Honourable Eamon Courtenay, directly expressed to the UNHCR Head of Office, Roland Francois Weil, the government’s deep concern at this unacceptable turn of events. Courtenay also informed Weil that there will now be a need for strong protocols to govern future incidents like this one considering this episode.

Most of the 38 travelers, primarily Venezuelans, were returned to Panama via COPA Airlines, while some stayed at a hotel in Belize City because they tested positive for COVID-19. The eight seeking asylum who reportedly escaped were in the care of Help for Progress, the UNHCR’s implementing partner. At the request of the Government of Belize, they were to ensure these persons did not leave the shelter they were assigned to until their refugee applications were processed.

It is speculated that all 38 passengers traveling to Belize, including a Moroccan, and one from the Dominican Republic did not intend to stay in Belize. The government believes that their intention is to continue traveling north to countries like the United States of America.

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