The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Belize organized its second humanitarian charter flight on Thursday, July 30. Onboard, 15 stranded Honduran nationals returned to Honduras while simultaneously returning with 18 stranded Belizeans from Honduras. Both groups waited in Belize and Salvador for almost four months due to COVID-19 related border and airport closures. IOM has supported the Governments of Belize and Honduras in their efforts to return these stranded groups of migrants. Indeed, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries closely coordinated efforts alongside their Embassies, the Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Health and The Department of Immigration.
Ensuring the protection of the most vulnerable is at the heart of IOM’s support in Belize and Honduras. IOM staff in Belize, prior to repatriation, provided humanitarian assistance to the groups; which included medical assistance, lodging, food, hygiene kits and protective products for COVID-19 (masks, face shields and hand sanitizer). Interviews were later conducted remotely, and operations followed the security protocols established by the Government of Belize and the United Nations.
Upon arrival, all 18 returned Belizeans were checked by the Ministry of Health and placed in a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated place by the Quarantine Authority of Belize; IOM Belize supported their quarantine.
“We found the AVR program on the Internet; then we saw that there was a repatriation flight from El Salvador to Belize. We were happy to know that [in Honduras] there was this,” explains a Honduran resident in Belize, who was stranded with her husband and son. A work project placed them in Honduras at the time of border closures, however, the project completed in April.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, IOM Belize has responded to the health emergency in coordination with States and partners. IOM has assisted 50 stranded individuals through the Assisted Voluntary Return Program, an IOM humanitarian project that aims to provide a safe and dignified return for migrants who wish to return voluntarily to their countries of origin but do not have the means to do so. The program is funded by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).