Access to Asylum: The government has not passed legislation to implement its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. As a result, the law does not provide for the granting of refugee status. The law does not provide for any exemption or penalization of irregular entry of asylum seekers. Persons who indicate a need for international protection may be subject to detention, criminal proceedings, and conviction of the crime of illegal entry; however, in practice refugees lived throughout the country, worked illegally, and sent their children to local public schools.
In the absence of national legislation, UNHCR registers all asylum seekers, conducts refugee status determination on behalf of the government, and promotes durable solutions for all refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate. The Living Water Community (LWC), a local Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) and UNHCR’s operational partner, is the first point of contact for persons of concern to UNHCR. It provides orientation and counseling and notifies the Immigration Division of the respective asylum applications. In close coordination with UNHCR, the LWC engages in case management and provides psychosocial care and humanitarian assistance, including cash, housing assistance, and legal aid, among other services.
Pending parliament’s approval of implementing legislation, the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division authorizes the stay of asylum seekers and refugees through the issuance of orders of supervision, but these measures do not guarantee refugees and asylum seekers the rights they are entitled to under the 1951 convention.
Refoulement: Due to a lack of training and awareness of refugee rights by officers at points of entry, there were at least four instances of refoulement in the first half of the year.
Employment: Refugees are not permitted to work. There were isolated claims of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees who worked in the informal economy.
Access to Basic Services: Refugee children had access to education, although there were reports of difficulties in enrolling them in public schools due to insufficient spaces and other practical obstacles. Refugees had access to most health-care services. They did not have access to identity documents and surrendered their passports to the Immigration Division.
Durable Solutions: Due to the absence of national legislation that would allow for local integration, resettlement continued to be the main durable solution for refugees in the country. UNHCR, the LWC, and the International Organization of Migration collaborated on the identification, submission, and transfer of refugees in need of resettlement. In the first half of the year, 25 individuals were resettled to a third country, mostly to the United States.
The government also closely collaborated with UNHCR by facilitating the resettlement of a few refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate in smaller Caribbean islands by allowing them to stay temporarily in the country to complete the formalities required for resettlement and then directly travel to their new asylum country.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to some Syrian refugees on an order of supervision, which allows free, legal movement, so long as refugees complete periodic visits to immigration officials. The LWC reported that many Cubans who filed petitions eventually abandoned their applications and left the country or simply walked away from the LWC because of the often-lengthy processing time and the lack of rights, particularly the right to work.