2 September 2014
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this morning considered Belize’s implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in the absence of a report and delegation.
The Committee members decried the lack of a report, given that Belize had acceded to the Convention in 2001. The dearth of any data was also making the work of the Committee more difficult. Reports by the International Labour Organization were of great help, but their focus was somewhat different. The migrant legislation in place was a point of concern, and some groups, such as homosexuals or blind people, fell into the “undesired migration” category. A Committee Expert said the Committee was dealing with a unique situation as there was nobody present on behalf of Belize to answer questions. Concluding observations for Belize should be qualitatively different from other concluding observations, and ought to be thoroughly prepared.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, when it will consider the initial report of Ghana.
Since the delegation of Belize had not submitted a report and was not present in the room, the Country Rapporteurs provided a brief overview of the situation in the State party when it came to the implementation of the Convention.
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belize, said that the brief report on Belize had been composed on the basis of open-source information, reports from civil society, official reports, information received in the process of the Universal Periodic Review, and from United Nations bodies present on the ground in Belize.
Belize was the only English-speaking country in Central America, with 340,000 inhabitants. It was primarily a country of origin and a transit country for migration. In institutional terms, the migratory policy was under the Immigration and Citizenship Department.
Belize had ratified a number of relevant protocols and international conventions. There was an inter-institutional mechanism to fight trafficking, especially of women and children, and recently there had been an implementation of regularization measures, which eased procedures for citizenship of migrants, primarily from other Central American States.
Belize had high levels of unemployment, but the lack of statistics in both quantitative and qualitative terms represented a major obstacle. The migrant legislation in place was another point of concern. On one hand, there was a large level of control, especially against what was known as the “undesired migration” category. There were some clauses regarding the health state of migrants, prohibiting, for example entry into the country of homosexuals, blind, deaf and mentally disabled people. People of Chinese origin had also frequently been prevented from coming into Belize.
Detention and deprivation of liberty of migrants was another matter of concern. There were few alternatives to the detention, and detention was frequently prolonged as the detained person could frequently not pay the bail. Those detained could frequently not establish contact with family members, and boys and girls were kept together with adults.
There was no way to challenge expulsion from the country. If individuals could not pay the return journey themselves, their situation was made even more difficult. People were kept in prisons for “migration offences”. There were also difficulties for birth registration of migrant children, and their access to health and education. Immigrant girls and boys sometimes acted as prostitutes.
The lack of convictions of people perpetrating violence and offences against migrants was a significant problem. The Ombudsman did not have full independence in his actions in Belize. Ever since 1997, there had been no real committee looking into the issues of refugees.
JOSE S. BRILLANTES, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belize, said that his statistics on the population of Belize showed only 300,000 inhabitants. There was a need for better and more updated statistics. What was preventing Belize from submitting its first report, which had been asked for so many times? There were only 47 States which had ratified or acceded to the Convention, and the Committee could not afford to “displease” any of them. Which was worse – a signatory country not presenting reports nor participating in the process, or a non-signatory country which was breaching many norms and could not be addressed by the Committee? That was something that the Committee should bear in mind.
In setting the priorities, the focus should be on good reports provided by the International Labour Organization. The reports by the non-governmental organizations were not that extensive. The problem of trafficking was worrying, where double jeopardy was in place – victims of trafficking were additionally charged with being illegal immigrants. There were glaringly low numbers of convictions for child labour.
There was a dearth of information on consular services that Belize was providing to its citizens abroad. Belize could also be viewed as a country of destination, as, according to some figures, as much as 18 per cent of its population were of foreign origin.
The secretariat informed that Belize had ratified the Convention in November 2001 and its initial report had been due in 2002.
An Expert said that, if a report were to be submitted, it should be considered a periodic report, and not an initial report. The question was how to provide technical assistance to Belize. Could the savings made be used to better promote the Convention? If not, how could the promotion of the Convention be funded?
Another Expert said that Belize was clearly finding it difficult to draft its reports. Was the lack of technical assistance at stake here, or were there other problems? Given that Belize had taken on board the fundamental philosophy of migrant workers, it was shocking that categories of “undesirable migrants” existed.
The Chairman said that there was no sufficient data in place, and the lack of statistics made it very difficult for domestic policies to be designed. That was a recurring issue with a number of countries, but in the case of Belize there was barely any data. Being a tiny country, Belize certainly had its institutional limits, but it was vital to make sure that there was a minimal institutional framework in place.
The question was how well known the Convention was in Belize, not only to public authorities, but also to non-governmental organizations. Guatemala and Belize had a complicated territorial dispute, which may have also had an effect on the condition of cross-border migrants.
The Committee was dealing with a unique situation, an Expert noted. There was nobody present on behalf of Belize to answer questions. Concluding observations for Belize should be qualitatively different from other concluding observations, and ought to be thoroughly prepared.
The Committee should approach the work it had embarked on very carefully, as it was entering uncharted territory, another Expert said. In the absence of information on particular points, what would underlie the Committee’s concluding observations? For example, the Committee knew nothing about voting by migrants from Belize living elsewhere, and could not provide any comments or recommendations in that regard.
It should not be forgotten that the United Kingdom had important influence over Belize, and that the British Head of State was the Head of State in Belize. The United Kingdom had a well-known negative attitude towards the Convention.
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belize, said that the most important bilateral agreement was the labour relations agreement with Guatemala. It was Mexican civil society organizations providing information on Belize, which was indicative. There were problems for communities living in the border areas.
JOSE S. BRILLANTES, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belize, stated that the fact that Belize had accepted the Convention should be seen as a plus for the State party. The Committee should look into how Belize had reacted to concluding observations issued by other committees in the absence of a report. The Committee should be very careful in crafting its concluding observations.
The Chairman said that the Committee ought to indeed be careful when drafting concluding observations. There were ILO documents available which could serve a very useful purpose. The Committee’s conclusions would be somewhat different and focus on migration from the human rights angle. If a report were to come in the next several months, it should be viewed as a periodic report.
For use of the information media; not an official record