Ecuador: the forgotten crisis
Most refugees come from neighbouring Colombia, where there’s a 40-year-plus armed conflict. Almost 600,000 Colombians are estimated to have fled to Ecuador since the year 2000 because of the killings, kidnappings and threats in their own country.
The UN’s refugee agency estimates that there may be over 130,000 refugees in Ecuador who haven’t registered with the authorities.
What challenges do people face when they come to Ecuador?
Receiving documentation to stay in Ecuador can take over a year. As a result, refugees face precarious living conditions for an unforeseen amount of time. Refugees may have little or no access to health, education and basic services. People who have had a good job in Colombia may have to live hand to mouth and settle for low-paid work which offers few employment rights as a refugee in Ecuador.
Refugees may find themselves victims of stigma, abuse and ill treatment. Other issues include trafficking and sexual exploitation. Colombians are also associated with violence and unrest by Ecuadorans.
What are the challenges facing Ecuador in receiving so many refugees?
The north of the country which borders with Colombia and which is where many refugees settle, is poor, lacks resources even without taking into account the additional refugee population. The influx of refugees can cause unrest among the local population.
What does Caritas do to help refugees in Ecuador?
Caritas offers humanitarian assistance, training and legal, psychological and social support to refugees. It trains and educates the authorities and local communities about the issues surrounding refugees, as well as promoting networks which deal in the protection of refugees. Caritas advocacy work isn’t just on a local and national level, it also raises awareness on among international bodies. Recent examples include making proposals to the UN to improve the situation of refugees in the region and attending the UNHCR annual consultations to highlight the difficulties of refugees in Ecuador (see "Caritas advocacy).
What does the Ecuadoran Government do to protect refugees?
The Government has chosen to launch a new policy to promote peace, protect refugees and provide a long-term solution for north Ecuador. It is also a signatory to the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees. Constitutional measures which were approved in 2008 recognise the right to asylum and guarantee the protection of refugees’ rights regarding education. Ecuador is committed to the 2004 Mexico action plan for the protection of refugees in Latin America, which aims to improve self-sufficiency and the integration of refugees.
The Government has also decentralised offices that deal with refugees so that they’re more easily accessible.
What more should the government and NGOs do to improve migrants’ situation?
They can both promote development projects among regions and surrounding countries. The government can improve efficiency in application procedures for refugees to get their documents. It can also ensure that the armed forces are not involved in migration and security – something which can lead to abuses.
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