US-bound Human-Smuggling Ring: More Than Half of Jamaican Visitors Vanished

The Government of Belize has expressed concerns that there is an ongoing human smuggling ring involving Jamaicans, with more than 50 per cent of Jamaicans who travelled to the CARICOM country over the last 14 months being unaccounted for.

Of the 1,673 Jamaicans who travelled to Belize via routes outside of the United States (US) during the period, only 778 were on record of leaving the country.

Over a similar period between November 2020 and December 2021, only 618 Jamaicans of the 1,261 were on record of leaving the country, according to Belize immigration data.

“Without a doubt, there is a human-smuggling ring, as the Immigration Department has been monitoring these migratory patterns from May 2022, following the full border reopening, after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Director of Immigration Debra Baptist-Estrada  told the media on Monday.

“ … They risk their lives through these treacherous jungles and routes with very young children and even some pregnant women,” she continued.

Baptist-Estrada said there were 149 minors – 86 males and 63 females – among the 1,673 Jamaicans, but noted that it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the children were unaccounted for.

She said that Jamaicans usually travel to Panama or El Salvador and from there, make their way to Belize.

Several Jamaicans also arrived on the Marcella Discovery 2 cruise ship, after booking trips from Jamaica to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico and then back to Jamaica.

On two occasions, Baptist-Estrada recalled, a number Jamaicans disembarked in Belize and did not return to the vessel.

For the last five years, some 4,932 Jamaicans travelled to Belize, but only one was denied entry.

Further, the immigration director said because Jamaicans enjoy visa-free travel to Mexico, within 24 hours of arriving in Belize and despite presenting hotel reservations for vacation, they show up at the Northern Belize Control border with Mexico.

“The Mexican immigration authorities, cognisant of what is occurring, have refused entry to a number of Jamaicans who have sought entry into Mexico through our northern border.

“As a result, they are utilising the irregular border crossing along the Rio Hondo River between Belize and Mexico, namely Santa Cruz, Blue Creek, Douglas, Patchakan, and San Victor villages, which are situated along the riverbanks that separate Belize and Mexico,” Baptist-Estrada confirmed.

She said that this is also a trend with Haitians who arrive in Belize, but because of visa restrictions for Mexico, they are, for the most part, smuggled through the irregular crossings.

The official said the smuggling of migrants has impacted Belize’s hotel industry as travellers make bookings but are ultimately no-shows.

“This a great loss to the hotels, who could have sold their rooms to genuine tourists. Belize intends to continue to target those who profit from the smuggling and trafficking of migrants, through collaborative efforts of law enforcement authorities nationally and regionally,” she said.

The Belize government had received reports from the US that most of the Haitians and Jamaicans who arrived in the country through the Phillip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City and who are unaccounted for have ended up at the United States southern border.

“When they reach there, they literally provide information of the route took. So, they would inform that they pass through Belize and then they would explain exactly how they pass through Belize. So, from that instance, we know that individuals are going north, but we don’t have the specific numbers,” he said.

The US Department of Homeland Security said that 30 Jamaicans were granted asylum affirmatively in 2021, while four were granted asylum defensively. The latter means that a request for asylum against removal from the United States was granted.

Immigration and Customs and Enforcement agents apprehended 2,131 Jamaicans who were in the country illegally in 2021. On a separate note, 1,733 Jamaicans were determined to be inadmissible and 1,222 were removed from the country because of their criminal statuses.

Middleton said that for the past six months, it has been observed that 50 to 60 per cent of the passengers who arrive in Belize on weekly flights via Copa Airlines are Haitians. They also make up 50 to 70 per cent of the passengers on Tropic Air flights from El Salvador.

He said that five to 15 Jamaicans travel to Belize per week via Copa.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said that she spoke with Eamon Courtenay, minister of foreign affairs and immigration of Belize, on the matter.

She said during that discussion, Courtenay clarified that media reports regarding the immediate imposition of restrictions on Jamaican travellers to Belize were inaccurate.

She said that they will remain in contact and continue to consult on the matter.

At the same time, Johnson Smith said that the statistical information on the movement to Belize is being received and analysed, noting that it is not yet possible to draw conclusions on whether there is an ongoing human-smuggling ring.

She said all implications are being assessed.

“While we are not aware of a human-smuggling ring in Belize, we are very aware that attempts at illegal transit through Belize or any country will make people vulnerable to criminal elements, including human traffickers,” she said.

“As a general reminder, I would like to take this opportunity to urge Jamaicans to abide by the immigration laws of the countries they visit. Attempting to transit illegally not only puts them in grave danger, but it also poses reputational risks to their home country, as well as to other law-abiding Jamaicans whose legitimate travel may be affected,” the minister said.

CARICOM Secretariat spokesman Leonard Robertson indicated on Monday that Belize did not consult with the regional bloc on the issue.

“CARICOM has no position on the matter.”

What's Your Reaction?

  • 0
  • 0
  • 1
  • 0
  • 1
  • 0