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Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Tonight, multiple reports reaching our newsroom are that over 30 passengers from a COPA flight from Panama are stuck in limbo at the Philip Goldson International Airport. They're not really in Belize, but also not out of the country as yet.

We understand, however, that a COPA flight arrived this evening with passengers from Panama, and while 38 of them were being processed by Immigration Authorities, their approval to land in Belize was denied. We are told this is because the accommodations they said they would stay at in Belize apparently don't exist.

We are told that this led to some sort of stand-off because these travelers strongly disagreed with that refusal.

We are told that the Belizean authorities wanted the pilot to fly them back to Panama, but the pilot strongly declined. So, they had to be taken off the airplane, while the immigration authorities figure out what is the best course of action to address this matter. Reports are that this major disruption affected passengers in Belize who were supposed to fly to Panama on the return leg of that COPA flight.

We reached out to Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Courtenay for comment, and tonight, he told us, quote, "We have a serious situation at the Airport with respect to people who should never have been put on that COPA flight to Belize. They have been refused leave to land, and steps will be taken to return them from where they came." End quote.

As viewers will remember, back in October of this year, 11 passengers were similarly refused leave to land in Belize. They also arrived at the PGIA on a COPA flight.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Venezuelans From COPA Flight Detained At Queen Street Police Station

Last night, we told you about the situation that unfolded at the Philip Goldson International Airport yesterday evening. There was a major disturbance when a COPA flight from Panama brought 38 passengers who were eventually refused leave to land in Belize.

We've since learned that the majority of these passengers were Venezuelans, and as we told you, the immigration authorities refused to officially allow them to enter Belize, which led to a stand-off. We are informed that the Immigration authorities wanted the pilot to fly them back to Panama, but he strongly declined. They were eventually taken off the plane and then transported to the Queen Street Police Station in Belize City for detention overnight.

They have still not been removed from Belize, and today, they retained attorney OJ Elrington to represent their interests. This evening, he called a press conference in front of the Queen Street Police Station to allege that the Belizean authorities have ill-treated his clients who remain in their custody. Here's how he explained why:



Late this evening, we reached out to Foreign Minister Eamon Courtenay for comment, and we await his response to the issues raised by Elrington today.

Channel 7

=====================

Was There an Altercation on the Aircraft?

Was there a scuffle onboard the flight at the P.G.I.A. that resulted in all thirty-two passengers being taken off the airplane? That's what the media asked Elrington today. Here's his response.

Reporter

"Did you get any information about what would have taken place at the airport, did they resist the authority once they were not granted leave to land? We heard there was a confrontation on the airplane itself."

Orson Elrington, Attorney-at-law
"No. My information now, I did get that piece of information and that is why I am telling you that one of the persons relayed to us that they were treated meanly. They were shoved, they were belittled and when they got back on the plane, that one of the persons who was disturbed, who was visibly upset about the situation and about being denied entry and not being provided with any information as to why their entry was being denied. Imagine you go da Orlando fi wahn trip and dehn seh, "Oh, just go back." You would be upset. But they said there was no threat of violence, there was nothing and the pilot said that this person is causing a disturbance so he will not proceed. And when they came back, they said, "Well, we will punish all of you."

Channel 5

Last edited by Marty; 01/20/22 04:37 AM.
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The COPA Passengers, Day 2

Since Tuesday, we've been closely following the story of the ugly scene which played out at the Philip Goldson Airport. It involved some 30-plus passengers who arrived on a COPA flight from Panama, but who were refused leave to land in Belize.

Last night, you heard the bitter complaints of ill-treatment that their attorney, OJ Elrington, raised against immigration and police. They alleged multiple misbehaviors and human rights violations by the Belizean authorities, and today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade & Immigration responded with full disclosure via a press conference.

Firstly, they clarify that there were 37 passengers who were refused leave to land: 35 Venezuelans, 1 Moroccan, and 1 Dominican Republic National. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, their rights were not violated, and the state's agents tried to address the situation as best as possible. Here's an excerpt of the full disclosure from Minister Courtenay:

Hon. Eamon Courtenay - Minister of Foreign Affairs
"These 37 persons were boarded on a Copa Airlines flight to be returned to Panama. Before the flight departed, and whilst onboard the flight, the national of the Dominican Republic objected to being returned to Panama and became disruptive. He started inciting the other persons who were being returned, and they became unruly. As a result of this, the pilot refused to transport them to Panama, as they presented a security risk. In accordance with the standard practice, the 37 passengers were de-boarded. As there is no detention facility to house persons who are refused entry to land, the Immigration officials contacted the Commissioner of Police, and the director of Human Services to assist with the detention and accommodation of these persons. Before leaving the PGIA, the detainees were served food and water at approximately 7:00 p.m. The 21 males and four females were escorted to the Queen Street Police Station. The other five females and seven children were escorted to the Dorothy Menzies Children's Home. Arrangements were made for police guards, three meals, and water to be served, until their planned departure on Wednesday, 19th January 2022. The diplomatic representatives of the Government of Venezuela interviewed their nationals yesterday. Yesterday, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees wrote to the Minister of Immigration and requested access to the detained persons. We have informed UNHCR that they can have access to these persons today at the Biltmore. Let me conclude by saying this. All persons detained would have been dealt with, according to the law of Belize. We will continue I repeat continue to respect the human rights of these persons."

So, what about the passengers being placed in a police detention cell? Well, according to the Minister, COPA had the responsibility to look after their arrangements after they were refused leave to land in Belize. Here's how he explained it when we asked that question:

Hon. Eamon Courtenay - Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The reason for the delay in putting them in the hotel was COPA's fault. The immigration law says that it is the expense of the Airline, any carrier that brings in a person. As I understand it, the local manager had to get approval from head office, and there was a delay there, and he could not on his own say, ‘Yes, I will take the decision to accept the costs. that meeting was held yesterday, as I said, around 3:15. They accepted their responsibility, the arrangements are made, and the people are probably there already. So let me be clear, they were never in prison. They were never -"

Cherisse Halsall
"They were I'm sorry in that cell block, correct?"


Hon. Eamon Courtenay
"I don't know. The police station doesn't have anywhere else to keep them. Where else could we have put them which is a structural problem. Ordinarily, it would happen the same day, and so people, you know, with less than that let's say if it's American Airlines and so on, they would say immediately yes. It appears that the manager here didn't have that authority, and there was a delay in him getting their approval. We don't have anywhere else to keep them, but ordinarily, the processing doesn't take so long, and therefore we were able to we would be able to get them to a hotel."

The Human Rights Commission of Belize has sent out a press release saying, quote, "the Venezuelans reached out HRCB for support. HRCB has confirmed that they are being detained with blatant disregard for proper legal procedures." End quote.

The COPA Concern

The passengers have been taken to the Biltmore Plaza Hotel, and COPA Airlines will cover their accommodations, food, water, return flights, and the Police guard that will be watching over them. They will be flown home on Saturday.

As viewers will remember, this is the second time that Immigration Authorities have refused to allow COPA passengers to land in Belize.

At the end of their disclosure, the Ministry, said, quote, "Belize remains concerned about the irregular flow of migrants in Central America and Belize. We will continue to monitor these flows in cooperation with our international partners."

The Minister was asked about that today, and here's what he had to say:

Hon. Eamon Courtenay - Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We have had meetings with representatives from Copa Airlines, where we have shared with them our concerns for these flights. We have shared with them our concern for what we regard as insufficient screening. We have shared with them our concern for the turnaround time because the flight arrives and it's like 50+ minutes before it leaves. There's a line in the arrival area, and before we can finish that, they are looking to leave, which presents a problem, hence the arrangement for TAG. I believe, because of the irregular flow of migrants, Guatemala has now imposed a visa requirement for Venezuelans and Ecuadorians are going into Guatemala, Mexico tomorrow, I believe it is, Mexico will now impose a visa requirement for Venezuelans. Because of these hurdles, people are finding other ways to go north. We are in cooperation with our international partners who track these things and who look at flows, closely monitoring the flow of persons into and through Belize. As a result of this particular flight, we will have to have far more detailed discussions with the authorities in Panama. We will also have to have deeper discussions with the authorities from both. The Government of Belize, in cooperation with all partners, and in accordance with the law, intends to fight to the best of our ability against the irregular flow of migrants through Belize. That is our objective and we will continue to cooperate with airlines, governments, and international organizations to manage and to ensure as best as possible we can stop. Or, I should say, reduce the irregular flow. The reason for the delay in putting them in the hotel was corpus for the immigration law so that it is the expense of their lives, and it kind of brings in a person who almost done it."

Channel 7


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Marty Offline OP
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A Full-On Fiasco With Those COPA Passengers, The majority of inadmissible COPA passengers returned to Panama, some sought refugee status

Last week, we told you about the saga involving those 37 passengers from that COPA flight from Panama who were refused leave to land in Belize.

Well tonight, there the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration is signaling its outrage that 8 of those passengers who were pretending to be asylum-seekers, escaped from Belize.

In an early-morning press release, the Ministry provided an update on the status of all 37. On Friday, January 21st, the national of the Dominican Republic, who incited his fellow passengers to cause the disturbance at the airport last week, was flown back to Panama on a TAG Airlines Flight, via Guatemala. Then on Saturday, the following day, 19 Venezuelans and the Moroccan were flown back to Panama on a COPA flight. Reports to 7News are that they had to be placed on a 2nd flight after being de-boarded once again.

Several of the remaining persons, including children, tested positive for COVID-19. They will remain on guard at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel at the expense of COPA Airlines. As soon as it is safe to do so, they will be returned to Panama.

And then, there are the 8 passengers who escaped.

In their press release, the Ministry says, quote, "The UNHCR representatives interviewed the adults and as a result, eight (8) persons have sought refugee status in Belize. At the request of the UNHCR, these persons have been handed over to Help for Progress. The UNHCR will meet all expenses incurred whilst their refugee applications are being processed. The Government of Belize has made it clear to the UNHCR that it is to ensure that these persons do not disappear whilst their refugee applications are being processed." End Quote.

Shortly after that, the Ministry sent out another statement saying, quote, "This afternoon UNHCR National Office - Belize informed that the eight (8) Venezuelan nationals that were taken by UNHCR National Office - Belize to the Help for Progress shelter in Belmopan on Saturday 22nd January 2022 have left the shelter and apparently made their way to Mexico. Consequently, they never visited the Refugees Department to apply for asylum. Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Immigration has expressed directly to Mr. Roland-Francois Weil, UNHCR Head of Office, the Government's deep concern at this unacceptable turn of events." End quote.

Channel 7


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