Mother and daughter aid in Belize’s regularization process
Luz*, 51, and her daughter Ada*, 19, are setting up tables, printers, and other necessary materials that will be used throughout the day for a Government-led regularization support program known as Amnesty that is being supported by UNHCR and its partner, HUMANA People to People in southern Belize. About twenty percent of Belize’s asylum-seekers reside in the region.
At the end of 2021, the Government of Belize announced an amnesty program that included asylum-seekers, allowing them a secondary pathway to permanent residency.
“When I first heard about the amnesty, I couldn’t believe it. I ran to HUMANA’s resource centre to see if it was true and immediately asked how I could help others learn about this unique opportunity,” shares Luz enthusiastically.
She and Ada arrived in Belize four years ago with hopes of rebuilding their lives after suffering the tragic loss of a family member by criminal group violence in Honduras.
The day after Luz’s oldest son was murdered while he was on his way to work, men in ski masks started coming to her home at night. They would park their motorcycles in her yard and terrorize her by walking around the house, checking to find any unlocked entry points.
“I placed furniture in front of all the doors because I was so scared,” recalls Luz. “In Honduras, many 14-year-olds are already members of criminal groups. Everyone in the community knows that to become a member of a criminal group, they had to kill someone.”
One night, as she peeked through her window, she heard a criminal group member on the phone talking about her and her daughter. At that moment, she realized they needed to flee.
Luz, her daughter Ada, and 4-year-old son Danny* left in a hurry, only carrying a piece of small luggage and her purse - the last sign of a normal life.
“I couldn’t even visit my parents one last time to say goodbye because it was too dangerous” she recalls with tears in her eyes. She hasn’t seen them since.
“I slept on cardboard with my children for a few nights when we first arrived in Belize, until HUMANA and UNHCR assisted me with basic supplies, including a mattress.”
After finding some stability in Belize, Luz and Ada joined Manos Unidas, a volunteer group led by HUMANA that helps asylum seekers and locals living in the community of Bella Vista.
“Just as they helped me when I first arrived, through me, they can continue to help others,” says Luz.
She and Ada attended an educative session on amnesty, led by UNHCR with informational support from the Government of Belize, which explained the process of applying and who were eligible. From that moment on, Luz and Ada reached out to others in their community to ensure they accessed this opportunity.
“I’ve helped many people understand their right to asylum and taken them to the Refugees Department to register,” explains Luz. “Now, I’m sharing information on how to apply for amnesty with them.”
UNHCR and local partners, including Help for Progress, Human Rights Commission of Belize, and HUMANA People to People began visiting communities across Belize to provide this assistance. Ada and Luz began volunteering.
Ada fills out the application forms in English, which she can now do after learning the language through HUMANA’s English as a Second Language (ESL) course.
“It feels very nice to be able to help others, especially because I remember coming to Belize and not understanding English” recalls Ada. “Now, I’ve volunteered in eight different communities by filling out applications for hundreds of asylum seekers. People even come to our home to ask for help with the application forms.”
Ada was also able to fill out her family’s application forms and submit them at the start of the amnesty process.
Luz and Ada feel grateful for this opportunity, especially after the tragedy they endured in Honduras two years ago.
UNHCR has been able to assist over 2,500 asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals to apply for the Government of Belize’s amnesty program, including Luz and Ada. This assistance has been possible thanks to the support of donors like the United States.
Over 12,000 asylum seekers and migrants have applied for this amnesty, which will allow them the right to employment, education, and healthcare, while also allowing them to give back to Belize through paying taxes and social security. Children will be able to enroll in secondary and tertiary education and all will be able to share their talents with the nation.
“Even after I am granted permanent residence,” says Luz, “I will always be here to serve others,”
In 2024, Belize assumed the Pro-tempore Presidency of the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework (MIRPS), a mechanism that encourages responsibility-sharing among countries of origin, transit, and destination in Central America and Mexico. The Amnesty Program, aligned with Belize’s national commitments in protection and integration, serves as a lifeline for asylum seekers to rebuild their lives with dignity and safety. The MIRPS Support Platform -lead by the United States in 2023- has been instrumental in mobilising resources for MIRPS countries and supporting initiatives like the Amnesty Program and other good practices in the region.
*These names have been changed to protect their identities.