Belize

Not Available

Immigration detainees

2019

Not Available

Detained children

2017

530

New asylum applications

2019

29

Refugees

2019

59,998

International migrants

2019

Overview

(January 2016) Belize’s immigration detention practices contrast with the policies of neighbouring countries in key ways. In particular, the country provides criminal sanctions for immigration-related infractions and appears to be the only nation in Central America that does not have a dedicated administrative immigration detention facility.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

15 August 2020

A Sign at the Belize Central Prison Reminding Inmates of Covid-19 Prevention Measures, (Belize Central Prison, W. Pitts,
A Sign at the Belize Central Prison Reminding Inmates of Covid-19 Prevention Measures, (Belize Central Prison, W. Pitts, "Mitigating the Impacts of Covid-19 in Secure Settings: Lessons from the Belize Central Prison," RTI International, 23 July 2020, https://www.rti.org/insights/covid-19-management-in-prisons)

Belize does not appear to have a dedicated immigration detention facility though it detains migrants in administrative procedures in Belize Central Prison. On 13 August, visits to the prison were suspended indefinitely due to the rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. There had been no confirmed cases in Belize Central Prison as of mid-August. Safeguarding measures at the prison were reportedly implemented early on in the pandemic, including having staff members wear masks. New inmates were being quarantined for 15 days (21 days for foreign detainees).


Last updated: January 2016

Belize Immigration Detention Profile

    Belize hosts migrants and asylum seekers from various neighbouring Central American countries, most of whom seek to reach the United States.[1] The country’s small population of immigration detainees mainly come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. However, there have been cases of foreign nationals from as far away as Somalia, Bangladesh, and India being arrested and placed in immigration detention.

    Belize’s immigration detention practices contrast with the policies of neighbouring countries in key ways.[2] In particular, the country provides criminal sanctions for immigration-related infractions and appears to be the only nation in Central America that does not have a dedicated administrative immigration detention facility.

    Detention Policy

    Belize has several laws that are relevant to the treatment of foreign nationals, including the Refugee Act, the Immigration Act, and the Aliens Act.[3]

    Belize criminalizes various status-related infractions. Under the 2010 Immigration Act, any person who enters Belize other than at an approved entry point, disembarks without the consent of an immigration officer, or fails to present him or herself to an immigration officer upon arrival can be charged with an offence (article 24). In this way, Belize’s Immigration Act resembles that of Malta, with which Belize shares British colonial heritage. In addition, the Belize Immigration Act and Malta’s 1970 Immigration Act employ the concept of “prohibited immigrant.” In contrast, Panama decriminalized status-related violations in 2008 when it overhauled its immigration legislation. 

    The law provides numerous migration and non-migration-related grounds for classifying a person as a “prohibited immigrant,” including lack of sufficient means of subsistence, having a mental disability or communicable disease, being a stowaway, being a prostitute or homosexual, having a previous criminal conviction, non-compliance with the conditions of a permit, revocation or expiry of a permit, or entering, leaving, or remaining in the country in contravention of a provision of the Immigration Act (articles 5(1), 9(4), 13(3)).

    Immigration officers can request a court order for the removal of a prohibited immigrant and detain the person until removal is possible (Immigration Act article 30). Any person who is considered “prohibited” and who disembarks without previously obtaining a permit can be charged with an offence (article 34(2)). This offence is punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 Belize dollars (roughly 2,500 USD) and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

    Article 28 stipulates that anyone detained, restricted, or arrested as a prohibited immigrant must be informed of the grounds for their detention and must be provided with the right to appeal to a summary jurisdiction court. A notice of appeal must be handed to the court and immigration officer within seven days of the appeal being made (Immigration Act, article 28(3)-(4)).

    Immigration detention is also set forth in the 2000 Aliens Act. Articles 3(1)-(2) provide for the arrest and expulsion of non-citizens who can be detained in custody prior to their deportation “in such manner and place as the Minister shall direct.” If they have not been deported from Belize within one month they should be released from custody as soon as is possible.

    Appeals must be made in writing to the Supreme Court within three days of receipt of an expulsion order. Every person detained in custody under an expulsion order must be given the opportunity to appeal and steps to enforce the expulsion order must be suspended once intention to appeal has been made (Aliens Act, article 9 (a)-(d)).

    In practice, apprehended migrants are reportedly held in administrative detention for 3-6 months if they cannot pay the fine. However, “extraregional” migrants tend to be detained for longer periods, often because of complications related to carrying our deportation flights to countries of origin.[4]

    In 2014 the UN Committee on Migrant Workers addressed the criminalization and detention of migrant workers in Belize. The Committee was particularly concerned about the treatment of undocumented migrants as criminal offenders. It advised Belize that irregular entrance into a country and expiration of a permit should be administrative infractions and not criminal offences. It urged the country to remove from its legislation provisions that make irregular immigration status a criminal offence, take measures to ensure that the administrative detention of migrant workers and members of their families on the basis of their migration status be used only as an exceptional measure and only for the shortest time possible, and adopt and employ alternative measures to detention.[5]

    Detention Infrastructure

    Belize is the only Central American country that does not have a dedicated immigration detention facility. Rather, migrants are detained in Her Majesty' s Prison (the Belize Central Prison), which is located in Hattieville, some 25 kilometres outside the capital, Belize City. Article 30(4) of the Immigration Act provides, “An immigrant ordered to be removed may be placed on board a suitable vessel by any police officer or immigration officer, and may be lawfully detained in custody on board so long as the vessel is within the territorial waters of Belize.” Article 37 states that a “person detained in custody under this Act but not serving a sentence of imprisonment may be so detained either in Her Majesty’s prison or in any place appointed for the purpose by the minister, but if detained in Her Majesty’s prison he shall be treated as a person awaiting trial.”

    The Kolbe Foundation, a Christian NGO, has operated the prison for many years. In June 2015, allegations arose about poor administration at the facility, bribes, and ill-treatment of detainees. One former prisoner claimed that these abuses appeared to be possible because of the autonomy that the Kolbe Foundation allegedly has with respect to relevant government agencies and oversight.[6]

    Previously, in 2013, four former employees of the Kolbe Foundation denounced human rights abuses at the prison and were subsequently the target of a defamation lawsuit filed by the Kolbe Foundation.[7]

    Some non-governmental sources report that immigration detainees are held in a separate section of the central prison and that women and men are segregated.[8] On the other hand, according to information reported by the International Detention Coalition, immigration detainees are confined in the pre-trial section of the prison.[9] In 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers expressed "particular concern" about “the detention, including indefinite detention, of migrant workers along with convicts under inhumane conditions and without basic assistance, including the possibility of seeking and establishing contact with lawyers and family relatives.” The UN treaty body urged Belize to ensure that migrant workers and members of their families who are in detention have access to legal aid and consular services and are kept in humane conditions.[10]

    Reports indicate that vulnerable groups like asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and migrant children are not placed in immigration detention. Children are supposed to be placed in shelters managed by the Ministry of Human Development (Ministerio de Desarrollo Humano) while authorities organize removal procedures. Accompanied children are separated from their parents. While parents are detained in the Belize Central Prison, minors are kept in shelters.[11] However, according to the Committee on Migrant Workers, children under 18 years of age, including unaccompanied minors, have been placed in pre-deportation detention for committing infractions listed under the Immigration Act. The Committee recommended that Belize should never place children in detention on the basis of their or their parents’ immigration status, urged the country to cease the detention and expulsion of migrant children on the basis of their migration status, and underscored that the best interest of the child and the principle of non-discrimination are primary considerations.[12]

    There do not appear to be any official statistics available concerning immigration detention in Belize, however one civil society source told the GDP that the number of detainees appears to have decreased in recent years.[13] According to official statistics, some 170 foreign prisoners were incarcerated as of 9 January 2015 in the Belize Central Prison.[14] The reasons for their incarceration were not reported.

     

     

    [1] International Organization for Migration, Website: “Migration Trends: Belize,“ Undated, http://costarica.iom.int/en/belize/migration_trends_in_the_mission/.

    [2] Undisclosed source (NGO), Email exchange with Izabella Majcher (Global Detention Project), November 2015.

    [4] Instituto de Estudios Políticos para América Latina y África and Médicos Sin Fronteras, Informacion comparada sobre detencion de solicitantes de asilo en Centroamerica y Caribe, 2007, http://www.gloobal.net/iepala/gloobal/fichas/ficha.php?entidad=Textos&id=4303&opcion=documento#ficha_gloobal; and Undisclosed source (NGO), Email exchange with Izabella Majcher (Global Detention Project), November 2015.

    [5] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Concluding observations on Belize in the absence of a report (CMW/C/BLZ/CO/1), 26 September 2014.

    [6] Channel 7 Daily News, “Two Faces of Belize Central Prison,” 5 June 2015. http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=32670.

    [7] Adele Ramos, “Belize Central Prison Coalition faces legal hurdles,” Amandala, 22 November 2013, http://amandala.com.bz/news/belize-central-prison-coalition-faces-legal-hurdles/.

    [8] Undisclosed source (NGO), Email exchange with Izabella Majcher (Global Detention Project), November 2015.

    [9] International Detention Coalition (IDC), INFORME REGIONAL DETENCIÓN MIGRATORIA Y ALTERNATIVAS A LA DETENCIÓN EN LAS AMÉRICAS, October 2014.

    [10] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Concluding observations on Belize in the absence of a report (CMW/C/BLZ/CO/1), 26 September 2014.

    [11] Undisclosed source (NGO), Email exchange with Izabella Majcher (Global Detention Project), November 2015.

    [12] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Concluding observations on Belize in the absence of a report (CMW/C/BLZ/CO/1), 26 September 2014.

    [13] Undisclosed source (NGO), Email exchange with Izabella Majcher (Global Detention Project), November 2015.

    [14] Institute for Criminal Policy Research/World Prison Brief, Website: “Belize,” http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/belize.

    ENFORCEMENT DATA

    Total Detainees/ Stock & Flow (Year)
    Not Available
    2019
    Total Entries/Flow (year)
    0
    Alternative Total Entries/Flow (year)
    0
    Average Daily Population (year)
    0
    Total Number of Children Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
    Not Available
    2017
    Number of dedicated medium-term immigration detention centres
    0
    2015
    Number of Transit/Border Detention Facilities
    0
    2015
    Number of Dedicated Immigration Detention Centres
    0
    2015
    Estimated Number of Ad Hoc/Unofficial Facilities
    0
    2015
    Criminal Prison Population (Year)
    1,443
    2015
    1,650
    2013
    1,562
    2012
    1,420
    2010
    1,346
    2007
    1,149
    2004
    903
    2001
    1,043
    1998
    630
    1995
    617
    1992
    Percentage of Foreign Prisoners (Year)
    11.1
    2015
    8.8
    2012
    Prison Population Rate (per 100,000 of National Population)
    410
    2015
    495
    2013
    476
    2012
    460
    2010
    471
    2007
    434
    2004
    369
    2001
    464
    1998
    304
    1995
    316
    1992

    POPULATION DATA

    Population (Year)
    400,000
    2020
    359,000
    2015
    300,000
    2012
    International Migrants (Year)
    59,998
    2019
    53,900
    2015
    50,900
    2013
    International Migrants as Percentage of Population (Year)
    15
    2015
    15.3
    2013
    Refugees (Year)
    29
    2019
    0
    2016
    35
    2015
    10
    2014
    Ratio of Refugees Per 1000 Inhabitants (Year)
    0.03
    2014
    0.09
    2012
    New Asylum Applications (Year)
    530
    2019
    2,016
    2016
    74
    2014
    58
    2012
    Refugee Recognition Rate (Year)
    100
    2014
    Stateless Persons (Year)
    0
    2016
    0
    2014

    SOCIO-ECONOMIC DATA & POLLS

    Gross Domestic Product per Capita (in USD)
    4,831
    2014
    4,834
    2013
    Remittances to the Country
    81
    2014
    85
    2011
    Remittances From the Country
    23
    2010
    Unemployment Rate
    2014
    Net Official Development Assistance (ODA) (in Millions USD)
    36
    2014
    Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
    101 (High)
    2015
    84 (High)
    2014

    B. Attitudes and Perceptions

    MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

    LEGAL & REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

    GROUNDS FOR MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

    LENGTH OF MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

    MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION INSTITUTIONS

    Custodial Authorities
    (Ministry of Home Affairs) Interior or Home Affairs
    2010
    Detention Facility Management
    Kolbe Foundation (Private Not-For-Profit)
    2015
    Types of Detention Facilities Used in Practice
    Yes
    2015

    PROCEDURAL STANDARDS & SAFEGUARDS

    DETENTION MONITORS

    TRANSPARENCY

    READMISSION/RETURN/EXTRADITION AGREEMENTS

    COVID-19

    HEALTH CARE

    COVID-19 DATA

    INTERNATIONAL TREATIES

    International Treaties Ratified
    Ratification Year
    Observation Date
    ICPED, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
    2015
    2018
    OPCAT, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
    2015
    2015
    ICESCR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    2015
    2015
    CRPD, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    2011
    2011
    CRSSP, Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
    2006
    2006
    CTOCSP, Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
    2006
    2006
    CTOCTP, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children
    2003
    2003
    ICERD, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
    2001
    2001
    ICRMW, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
    2001
    2001
    VCCR, Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
    2000
    2000
    ICCPR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
    1996
    1996
    CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
    1990
    1990
    CRC, Convention on the Rights of the Child
    1990
    1990
    CRSR, Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
    1990
    1990
    PCRSR, Protocol to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
    1990
    1990
    CAT, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
    1986
    1986
    Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
    Ratio: 16/19
    Treaty Reservations
    Reservation Year
    Observation Date
    ICCPR Article 14 1996
    1996
    1996
    Individual Complaints Procedures
    Acceptance Year
    Observation Date
    CEDAW, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1999 2002
    2002
    2002
    Ratio of Complaints Procedures Accepted
    Observation Date
    1/8
    1/8
    Relevant Recommendations Issued by Treaty Bodies
    Recommendation Year
    Observation Date
    Committee on Migrant Workers §19. The Committee urges the State party to: (a) Repeal all discriminatory provisions regarding entry of migrant workers into the State party contained in section 5 (1) of Chapter 156 of the Immigration Act (2000); (b) Bring the laws and practice regarding entry of migrant workers and members of their families in line with article 8, paragraph 1, of the Convention, so as to ensure that permission for a migrant worker to enter the State party is not restricted, unless deemed necessary for the protection of national security, public order, health or morals, in accordance with the rights set forth in the Convention; (c) Ensure the right to privacy of all migrant workers and members of their families wishing to enter the country, in accordance with article 14 of the Convention; (d) Ensure that no medical examination is required on the basis of discriminatory grounds, including non-risk health or medical conditions, physical or psychosocial disability, real or perceived HIV/AIDS status or other communicable disease, sex work or sexual orientation or gender identity; (e) Remove all restrictions on the rights of children of migrant workers based on the particular status or condition of their parents. §27. The Committee recalls that irregular entrance into a country or expiration of authorization to stay is an administrative infraction, not a criminal offence. Consequently, such situation cannot imply a punitive sanction. The Committee recalls that children should never be detained on the basis of their or their parents’ immigration status, and urges the State party to: (a) Remove from the its legislation any provision that considers any irregular immigration situation as a criminal offence; (b) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that administrative detention of migrant workers and members of their families on the basis of their migration status is an exceptional measure only for the shortest time possible, and adopted in the framework of a process that includes all due process guarantees; (c) Adopt, by law and in practice, alternative measures to detention of migrant workers and members of their families; (d) Ensure that migrant workers and members of their families held in detention centres have access to legal aid and consular services, that they are held in humane conditions, and that their treatment is otherwise in full compliance with articles 16 and 17 of the Convention; (e) Cease the detention and expulsion of migrant children on the basis of their migration status, and ensure that the best interest of the child and the principle of non-discrimination are taken as primary considerations. 2014
    2014
    2014
    Human Rights Committee §13. ...Section 5(1)(e) of the Immigrations Act, which includes homosexuals on the list of prohibited persons for purposes of immigration... The State party should review its Constitution and legislation to ensure that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited. The Committee further urges the State party to include in its initial report information on the outcome of the case challenging the constitutionality of section 53 of the Criminal Code and section 5(1)(e) of the Immigration Act. The State party should also ensure that cases of violence against LGBT persons are thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that the victims are adequately compensated. 2013
    2013
    2013

    NON-TREATY-BASED INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS

    Visits by Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
    Year of Visit
    Observation Date
    Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children 2013
    2013
    2015
    Relevant Recommendations by UN Special Procedures
    Recommendation Year
    Observation Date
    Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children §90. Reconsider the restrictive immigration policy that further compounds the problem of human trafficking and undermines efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking. Urgently establish a separate migrant holding facility. Take all necessary measures to avoid double victimization of those subjected to trafficking and subsequently detained as irregular migrants. Amend relevant laws to decriminalize irregular migrants, especially those victims of trafficking. §91. Halt the practice of detention and deportation of children as this contravenes the principle of the best interest of the child and the principle of non-discrimination entrenched in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Belize is a State Party. 2014
    2014
    2014
    Relevant Recommendations from the UN Universal Periodic Review
    Observation Date
    No 2009
    2017
    Yes 2013

    REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS

    Regional Legal Instruments
    Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
    Observation Date
    CBDP, Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para) 1996
    1996

    GOVERNANCE SYSTEM

    Legal Tradition(s)
    Common law
    Federal or Centralised Governing System
    Centralized system
    2016

    DETENTION COSTS

    OUTSOURCING

    FOREIGN SOURCES OF FUNDING FOR DETENTION OPERATIONS