Belize – A plane chartered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) completed last Friday a round-trip humanitarian flight, carrying 32 Salvadoran nationals from Belize to El Salvador and bringing home 13 Belizeans on the return trip.
"This is the first large group movement of its kind for stranded migrants in Belize through IOM Assisted Voluntary Return Program," said Diana Locke, IOM's Head of Office in Belize. “This represents a big step in the right direction for the dignified return of migrants in the region.”
Before the repatriation, IOM staff in both countries provided humanitarian assistance to the returning migrants, including medical and psychosocial support, lodging, food, hygiene kits, and protective gear (masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer). Interviews were conducted remotely, and operations followed the security protocols established by the governments of El Salvador and Belize. IOM also provided pre-departure medical screenings to confirm beneficiaries were in good conditions to travel and to discard COVID-19 related symptoms. Upon arrival in CoO, authorities implemented health protocols at airports and with the support of IOM, facilitated a 14-day quarantine at government-run centers.
Both groups had been waiting in Belize and Salvador for almost four months due to COVID-19 related border and airport closures. The Salvadoran group included 20 men, 11 women, and one girl. The Belizean group included eight women and five men.
"There are currently limited routes for migrants to return home. Through the support of and close coordination with government authorities, partners, and IOM teams, we have been able to ensure Salvadorans and Belizeans can reach their countries of origin in a safe and orderly manner," said Malina Gaianu, Project Specialist with IOM Belize.
IOM supported the Government of Belize and El Salvador in their efforts to return these stranded migrants. These efforts were carefully coordinated with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries and its embassies, ministries of National Security and Health.
Among the women returning to Belize was Marta, who was looking forward to reuniting with her elderly mother. Marta went through a health screening.
"My brothers live here in El Salvador,” she explained “And because they are older people, they have health problems. That is why, from time to time, I come to visit them."
But with travel restrictions in both countries, such travel became nearly impossible. Marta received news that her mother, 96, had suffered an accident, leaving her gravely injured. She needed IOM’s help to get home.
"In coordination with the authorities of El Salvador and Belize, we have managed to provide comprehensive assistance to these people who were eager to return to their countries of residence," added Jorge Peraza, IOM Chief of Mission for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. "We are especially pleased that this entire process followed the strictest health recommendations."
Assistance for the return of stranded migrants is part of the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme, 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).
For further information, please contact Jorge Gallo, IOM Regional Office Costa Rica. Tel.: + 506 2212-5300; M. +506 7203-6536. Email: email@example.com