Authorities in Belize announced that the 32 Cuban immigrants detained for entering the country without documentation will soon be released, but the Cubans are unaware of the details of their liberation and are still in jail.
Director of Immigration Godwin Hulse told Seven News Channel in Belize that on Friday he would sign a document releasing the Cubans from jail. But according to statements Tuesday from Yorday Leon Perdomo, who is in Hattieville’s Central Prison, authorities in Belize have yet to inform the immigrants when they will be released.
“We just called the immigration office and they told us that they were working arduously to process us out but that there’s still a while more to wait,” said Leon Perdomo, adding that none of the incarcerated immigrants was given further details.
He also noted that Belize authorities had not officially communicated the news of their liberation to them. “No one has come to tell us anything despite the fact that the media in Belize reported that we would be released from jail immediately,” he said.
Leon Perdomo said that an official working in Cuba’s embassy in Belize called them on Tuesday to “verify if they had money to pay for the stamp the authorities were going to put on their passports granting them entry into Belize, because Immigration had contacted them to inquire about it.”
In Belize, illegal entry is a serious offense and immigrants must pay a fine of 1,005 Belizian dollars (an equivalent to $505 U.S.), in addition to facing a jail sentence and deportation. Leon Perdomo says he was taken to jail even after having paid the fine. Some members of the group have been kept in jail longer than the six-month limit imposed by Belizian law for that offense.
The group has been in legal limbo since completing its jail sentence after its members voiced their desire to not be deported to Cuba.
The group, which is made up mostly by young men, includes four women, and Leon Perdomo said its members are currently in “a maximum security jail facing extreme conditions.” Twenty of the 32 Cubans jailed in Belize arrived there by sea and the rest by land, some with the help of coyotes when they tried to cross through Central America on their way to the United States.
Leon Perdomo, 35, first made it to Peru where he has three daughters, with whom he has maintained communications since he was arrested in August 2015.
After reporting on Jan. 18 about the 32 Cuban immigrants in Belize, el Nuevo Herald reached out to several government agencies in Belize about the case. Among the offices el Nuevo Herald contacted were Hulse’s and the embassy of Belize in the United States. Neither responded.
On Thursday, Hulse told the local press “there is no need for the incarceration to continue and from a humanitarian point of view, they should be released.”
The 2015 report on human trafficking crafted by the Department of State names Belize as a tier 3, reserved for countries that don’t meet “minimum standards” in regards to combating human trafficking, and it highlights its government as making “minimum efforts” to protect human trafficking victims.
The report specifically details that “an existing agreement between the Belizean and Cuban governments requiring the return of all Cubans who enter Belize may have also placed potential trafficking victims at risk for further exploitation.”
After visiting Belize, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons reported in June 2014 her concern about the “the rampant and indiscriminate criminalization of irregular migrants leading to the detention and deportations of potential victims.”
Leon Perdomo said members of the group could pay for the rest of their journey to the United States.