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Belize - Refugees

The Belizean Refugee Act stipulates that a person shall be a refugee owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, he is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, he is unable or, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is unwilling to return to it.

In conjunction with the Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act (2000) provides that any person seeking refugee status is entitled to remain in Belize until the application has been heard, and if the application has not been approved, until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted, and up to three months after the close of appeal, if the decision was not reversed, to allow him/her to make adequate arrangements to depart Belize. Under the said Act, every recognized refugee shall be accorded the rights and subject to the duties as per the Convention, be subject to all laws in force in Belize, and be afforded reasonable opportunity to work and contribute to the development of Belize.

The Refugee Eligibility Committee consists of nine persons appointed by the Minister integrated by the Director of Refugees, who shall be the Chairman of the Committee; the Legal Protection Officer, Refugees Office; a representative of the Ministry for the time being responsible for immigration; the Senior Social Worker, Refugees Office; a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; a representative of the Commissioner of Police; a member of the clergy; a member of the Trade Union Congress; and a member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The functions of the Committee are to receive and consider applications made to the Committee, to exercise any other powers and to perform any other duties that may be assigned to the Committee by or in terms of the Belizean Refugee Act.

Recognition of status

Any person who is within Belize, whether he has entered Belize lawfully or otherwise, and who wishes to remain within Belize as a refugee in terms of the Refugee Act shall within fourteen days of his arrival in Belize apply to the Committee for recognition of his status as a refugee.

Unless it is impossible or inexpedient to do so, the Committee shall consider every application made to it in terms of subsection (1) within thirty days of the application being so made, and may, either within such period of thirty days or thereafter, make such inquiry or investigation as the Committee thinks necessary into any such application.

After considering any application made to it under section 8 of the Refugee Act, the Committee may, subject to confirmation by the Minister, recognize the applicant concerned as a refugee; or may refuse to recognize the applicant as a refugee; and shall cause the applicant concerned to be notified of its decision within seven days.

Every determination of the Committee to recognize an applicant as a refugee shall be subject to confirmation by the Minister. Any person who is aggrieved by a refusal by the Committee to recognize him as a refugee may, within fourteen days of being notified of such refusal, appeal in writing to the Minister.

In any appeal the Minister may confirm or set aside the decision of the Committee and shall cause the appellant concerned to be notified of his decision in the matter, and the decision of the Minister shall be final. Provided that, before reaching a decision in an appeal, the Minister may invite the representative in Belize of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to make oral or written representations in the matter; refer the matter back to the Committee for further inquiry and investigation to be made; himself, make such further inquiry and investigation into the matter as he thinks fit.

Residence in Belize pending recognition of the status of refugee or after refusal of recognition

Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, any person who has applied in terms of section 8 of the Belizean Refugee Act for recognition of his status as a refugee, and every member of his family, shall have the right to remain within Belize until such person has been recognized as a refugee in terms of that section; or in the event of the application of such person being unsuccessful, until such person has had an opportunity to exhaust his right of appeal; or where such person has appealed and his appeal has been unsuccessful, until such person has been allowed a reasonable time, not exceeding three months, and, if he is in detention, has in addition been afforded reasonable facilities, to seek admission to a country of his choice.

The Minister may, on application being made to him by the person concerned, extend the three-month period referred above if he is satisfied that there is a reasonable likelihood of the person being admitted to a country of his choice within such extended period.