Belize

No Data

Immigration detainees

No Data

Detained children

530

New asylum applications

2019

29

Refugees

2019

59,998

International migrants

2019

Overview

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.

IMMIGRATION AND DETENTION-RELATED STATISTICS

Number of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
0
2015
Number of dedicated medium-term immigration detention centres
0
2015
Number of transit facilities
0
2015
Number of ad hoc facilities
0
2015
Criminal prison population
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
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
400,000
2020
359,000
2015
300,000
2012
International migrants
59,998
2019
53,900
2015
50,900
2013
International migrants as a percentage of the population
15
2015
15.3
2013
Refugees
29
2019
0
2016
35
2015
10
2014
Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
0.03
2014
0.09
2012
Total number of new asylum applications
530
2019
2,016
2016
74
2014
58
2012
Refugee recognition rate
100
2014
Stateless persons
0
2016
0
2014
Total number of immigration detainees by year
Number of immigration detainees on a given day
Top nationalities of detainees
Number of persons granted alternatives to immigration detention
Number of detained asylum seekers
Total number of detained minors
Number of detained unaccompanied minors
Number of detained accompanied minors
Number of detained stateless persons
Number of apprehensions of non-citizens
Immigration detainees as a percentage of total international migrant population
Estimated total immigration detention capacity
Estimated capacity of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
Number of immigration offices
Number of criminal facilities
Number of persons removed/returned (voluntary returns and deportations)
Number of deportations/forced returns only
Percentage of persons removed in relation to total number of people placed in removal procedures
Estimated number of undocumented migrants

SOCIO-ECONOMIC INDICATORS

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
Unemployment rate amongst migrants
Detention for deterrence
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
Immigration Index Score
World Bank Rule of Law Index
Domestic Opinion Polls on Immigration

DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES

Legal tradition
Common law
Constitutional guarantees?
Core pieces of national legislation
Additional legislation
Regulations, standards, guidelines
Immigration-status-related grounds
Non-immigration-status-related grounds providing for administrative detention in immigration legislation.
Does the country provide specific criminal penalties for immigration-related violations?
Grounds for criminal immigration-related detention/incarceration and maximum potential duration of incarceration
Has the country decriminalized immigration-related violations?
Maximum length for administrative immigration detention in law.
Longest recorded instance of immigration detention.
Maximum length of time in custody prior to issuance of a detention order
Average length of detention
Maximum length of detention for asylum-seekers
Maximum length of detention for persons detained upon arrival at ports of entry
Provision of basic procedural standards
Types of non-custodial measures
Impact of alternatives
Is the detention of vulnerable persons provided in law? Are they detained in practice?
Mandatory detention
Expedited/fast track removal
Re-entry ban

INTERNATIONAL LAW

International treaty reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
ICCPR Article 14 1996
1996
1996
Individual complaints procedure
Acceptance Year
CEDAW, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1999 2002
2002
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted
Observation Date
1/8
1/8
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
Recommendation Year
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
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
Regional legal instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
CBDP, Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para) 1996
1996
Visits by special procedures of the 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 of the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2009
2017
Yes 2013
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Treaty bodies decisions on individual complaints
Regional treaty reservations
Regional judicial decisions on individual complaints
Recommendations issued by regional human rights mechanisms
Bilateral/multilateral agreements linked to readmission

INSTITUTIONAL INDICATORS

Federal or centralized governing system
Centralized system
2016
Custodial authority
(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
()
()
()
Centralized or decentralized immigration authority
Apprehending authorities
Formally designated detention estate?
Authorized monitoring institutions
Is the national human rights institution (NHRI) recognized as independent?
Does NHRI carry out visits?
Does NHRI have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NHRI publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Does national preventive mechanism (NPM) carry out visits?
Does NPM have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NPM publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Do NGOs carry out visits?
NGO capacity to receive complaints?
Do NGOs publish reports on immigration detention?
Do parliamentary organs carry out visits?
Do parliamentary organs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do parliamentary organs publicly report on their detention findings?
Do internal inspection agencies (IIAs) carry out visits?
Do IIAs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do IIAs publicly report their findings from detention inspections?
Do international and/or regional bodies (IRBs) visit immigration-related detention facilities?
Do IRBs publicly report their findings from inspections?
Types of privatisation/outsourcing
Detention contractors and other non-state entities
Estimated annual budget for detention operations
Estimated annual budgets for particular detention-related activities
Estimated cost per detainees day (in USD)
Estimated annual budget for non-custodial measures (in USD)
Estimated costs of non-custodial measures (in USD)
Does the country receive external sources of funding?
Description of foreign assistance