Friday, 24 March 2006
By Ann-Marie Williams - News Editor
Thirty young men and women from Mainland China who arrived in Belize earlier this year as cultural exchange language students at the University of Belize have all gone into hiding.
A Reporter expos? last week that they are part of a scam to be smuggled into the United States of America is largely responsible for their disappearance.
Not one of these students turned up for a certificate award ceremony at the University of Belize earlier today.
The university’s way of cutting off ties with the programme which has gotten a black eye.
The 30 students are part of a larger group of 52.Twenty from this group were provided with Single Entry student visas but were never registered with the university as exchange students.
These 20 have already left Belize en route to the States. It is believed the other 32, bona fide language students, expected to follow the same smuggling route into the U.S. after their language course was over.
U.B. President Corinth Lewis, Ph.D., confirmed to Reporter via a telephone interview on Thursday that the Cultural Exchange Programme has been terminated.
In a release to the media Lewis cited “issues of non-compliance with programme requirements for attendance and registration.
“The Department of Immigration has been fully appraised of our concerns” Lewis said, “and is providing every support necessary to address them.”
Asked if she knew the students were -intending to use Belize as a transhipment point to get into the U.S.A. Lewis replied: “I knew nothing of a smuggling ring until I read the story in your paper.”
Large questions arise about the handling of the programme, and why visas were issued to 52 students but only 30 showed up for classes.
Lewis was not the only one taken in by the scam. Retired Belmopan Mayor Anthony Chanona told Reporter he supported the initiative.
“I felt it was good for Belmopan to have these students from China. Councillor Sharon Palacio was directly in charge as it came under her portfolio.
“When I sensed something was wrong was when I heard that Chinese businessman Chen Da Teng (Yim Saan) went to the U.B. and the immigration Department and paid in cash for the 52 visas, tuition fees and books and the repatriation fee.
According to Chanona Yim Saan paid $208.000 in cash for the visas and $416,000 also in cash as repatriation fees for the 52 students.
There is a report, now confirmed, that seven of the so-called Chinese students were apprehended in Tijuana on their way to the U.S. Each one had a valid Belizean visa, though the evidence suggests they never set foot in Belize.
Efforts to reach Immigration Director Jose Carmen Zetina, the official who authorised the student visas, were again unsuccessful. Reports say he left the country to attend some CARICOM function.
There is confirmation however that Zetina has authorised the return of $56,000 in repatriation fee to the seven students being held in Mexico. Last week Zetina admitted that 13 of the so-called students, the ones who did not register for the university language course, has “disappeared”. These are believed to be the ones who successfully made it into the United States ‘through the back door.
Indications are that there is a well organised Chinese people smuggling ring operating in Mexico, and that one Belmopan Chinese businessman in particular has tapped into this smuggling ring.
He has not hesitated to use the University of Belize as an innocent pawn in his game of high stakes and may even have involved one or more members of the Belmopan City Council and the Immigration Department.
Last Updated ( Friday, 24 March 2006 ) http://www.reporter.bz/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1036&Itemid=2