Belize is looking to improve its poor reputation as a haven for shipping of illicit goods and illegal activities, often conducted through our major ports of entry. Minister in charge of the Department of Immigration and Nationality Services, Senator Hon. Godwin Hulse, today helped unveil a Personal Identification and Registration System (PIRS) installed at a cost of 1.1 million dollars with assistance from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the International Organzation for Migration (IOM). He says that the program is carefully planned to screen out would be offenders.
Hon Godwin Hulse – Minister of Immigration:
We know, and it is no secret, that there are those who try to just pass through our land to do other things. We will hopefully catch you. The signal goes out to all those who now think that it is easy to enter Belize, and you can leave at your own will. We will note when you leave. The arrival is one, but the departure is the new one. That is the area where we are going to record those who leave, and to ensure that those who came leave properly. So again, we put those who would do wrong things on notice..
IOM representative Delbert Field said the system is needed in light of the unique challenges Belize faces.
Delbert Field – IOM Representative:
Perhaps nowhere else is that challenge more relevant that here in the Americas, the busiest and largest migration corridor in the world. Migration Management plays an indispensable role in regional security policy. The growing involvement of transnational organized criminal networks in migrant smuggling, human trafficking, and identity and travel document forgery, means that we must do more in the areas of Border Management and capacity building to reinforce security systems in front-line defenses. The Government of Belize faces numerous challenges in effectively controlling its borders. Its strategic location in Central America makes Belize a transit route for legal and illegal activities from South America to North America.
Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Belize, Margaret Hawthorne, summarizes the main features of the program.
Margaret Hawthorn – Deputy Chief of Mission:
The project uses computers to detect and register all entries and exists into and out of Belize, including all land, sea and air borders, with the exception of the cruise ship terminal in Belize City. IOM customized the Personal Information and Registration System or PIRS – a computerized border management system for Belize. PARSI provided equipment such as computers to facilitate the efficient collection of data and data sharing between border post and head quarters. To make the project completely successful, IOM trained immigration Officers in both practical and theoretical aspects of PIRS, data collection and passport verification procedures. The work done by Belize border management agencies is vital to all of our safety and it is a very difficult line to walk. Immigration relies on hard work and the good judgment of officers. This project, we hope, will empower these officers to do their jobs better and to make it easier for them by providing access to useful data.
But how will it work on the ground? We approached immigration clerk Jessica Heusner for answers.
Jessica Heusner – Immigration Clerk:
As the person enters and comes to the desk, we scan the passport. The picture comes up. We also have to take a photograph of that person, fingerprints left and the right index finger, We have to enter all appropriate data, where they’re staying, where they’re coming from. The nationality automatically comes up with the passport, once you scan the passport. All of that is saved. Then the same thing is done for another passenger coming in. Everything is registered and saved.
It’s highly unlikely that somebody would slip by with this. The thing is that before you had a larger margin for human error, in that you had to write everything down. It was all manual before. People get tired. It’s tedeous, and they would have tended maybe to skip somebody at the borders, not writing everything down, cause you has to do the name, date of birth. All of that had to be done manually. This way it’s very unlikely. It would automatically come up because we have a manifest with how many passengers coming on each flight. So after you check it at the end of the day for statistics, you would see that the person was not entered, and you would see who made that mistake.
Along with the equipment came six months of training for immigration personnel, who welcome nearly a million visitors to Belize per year.