Belize vaccinates first groups of refugees amid country-wide immunization drive
24 June 2021
Belize vaccinates refugees and locals across the country. For people forced to flee like Lorena, getting the COVID-19 jab means she can continue rebuilding.
Belize vaccinates refugees and locals across the country. For people forced to flee like Lorena, getting the COVID-19 jab means she can continue rebuilding her life after escaping violence in Honduras.
When authorities announced COVID-19 vaccines would be available to all regardless of immigration status or nationality, 42-year-old Lorena Mejia could not have been more excited. By mid-May she was among the first group of refugees who received vaccines in this tiny Central American country.
“I feel safe now because I can move around more freely and securely, and I feel safer for my daughter as well,” said Lorena.
After waiting for her turn, Lorena received her appointment and only needed to present an ID from her country of origin to register herself.
“Many of my friends fear the vaccine,” she said. “Now that I am vaccinated, I will encourage them to do the same.”
As of June 11, 72,521 people in Belize have received their first dose, which is just over 17% of the population. Out of those, 15,930 people have received their full vaccine dose against COVID-19, including some refugees and asylum seekers.
“I thought that I could not get the vaccine because I was not a Belizean, and I felt so good when I learned that I qualified,” she said.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to share joint press releases and radio advertisements, especially in refugee-hosting communities, so that refugees and asylum seekers are aware that they can get vaccinated in Belize.
For Lorena, being vaccinated has benefits beyond being protected from complications from the coronavirus. It means she can now continue caring for her family on her own – something she could not do back home in Honduras.
Forced to stay in an abusive relationship with a gang member in Honduras, Lorena spent nearly a decade fearing for her and her young daughter’s life.
“He hit me a lot and brought other women to our home. I could not leave because he threatened to kill me,” she said.
One day, Lorena came home from work and her eight-year-old ran to her, telling her that her father’s friends were trying to rape her. “He got upset and hit us, in front of his gang friends. I knew we needed to leave.” On a different day, he shot and nearly killed her. Lorena and her daughter ran for their lives and started over in Belize twelve years ago.
Since arriving in Belize, Lorena has been selling food to make ends meet. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, her income quickly dwindled.
Through a project supported by UNHCR at HUMANA People to People, she is currently learning to sew at a community resource center where refugees and community residents can expand their skills that they can use to start a business and sustain themselves and their families.
“I had never learned how to sew. I’m not only learning the skill, but it is also giving me peace and hope. When I am at the center, I don’t even feel the time go by.” Lorena hopes she can start her own business.