U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Ecuador
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||11 July 2007|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Ecuador, 11 July 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4696387f14.html [accessed 18 April 2015]|
The migration police deported some 4,300 Colombians for clandestine entry or lack of proper documentation in 2006. Those deported included at least nine who had formally applied for asylum; five the Refugee Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) had not yet interviewed; two before their appeal time had lapsed; one whose application was pending a decision; and one whose application the Refugee Office declared expired, instead of properly documenting his status as an asylum seeker. Many of the deported Colombian asylum seekers were either afraid to apply for asylum or ignorant of their right to do so. Deported persons had no access to judicial procedures. In December, the Ecuadorian foreign minister threatened to stop receiving Colombian refugees altogether if Colombia did not halt fumigations of illicit crops along the border.
Colombian irregular armed groups operating in Ecuador threatened refugees and asylum seekers they perceived as supporters of rival armed groups. In October, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) sent death threats to seven people working for Colectivo de Personas en Situación de Refugio y Desplazamiento, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) aiding refugees. FARC was also involved in at least one known kidnapping and murder near Quito, reportedly in collaboration with an Ecuadorian police officer. Refugee women in Ibarra reported police violence as a major problem. Due to lack of physical security, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) evacuated 43 refugees and asylum seekers from Lago Agrio, near the Colombian border, to Quito, Ibarra, and Santo Domingo de los Colorados. Irregular armed groups along the border often threatened and injured people, sometimes shooting and killing friends and family members of the refugees and asylum seekers. Many survivors feared to report these incidents to the police, who rarely investigated. In repeat violence or high profile cases, UNHCR sought third countries in which to resettle the refugees, including one of those from Lago Agrio. Based on conditions in Colombia, UNHCR did not encourage repatriation of refugees. Some refugees returned anyway, even when they continued to be in danger in their own country.
Ecuador was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, but maintained a reservation to the Convention's right of association. The 1998 Constitution recognized a right of asylum and provided that all ratified treaties constituted law of the land superior to other laws. A 1992 Presidential Decree (Refugee Regulation) implemented the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, prohibited refoulement, prescribed a process for seeking asylum, authorized an Eligibility Commission to decide claims with UNHCR's participation (voice but no vote), a right of appeal and the right to remain while it was pending, and granted refugees all rights the Constitution applied to aliens in general. The 1986 Foreigners Law stated that Ecuador should not grant asylum to persons who stayed in a third country prior to their arrival, but there were no readmission agreements in the region. In May 2006, the Constitutional Court issued a resolution reaffirming the principle of nonrefoulement and exhorting the local authorities to adopt measures to prevent the expulsion of refugees and rejected asylum seekers.
UNHCR submitted applications to the Refugee Office of the MFA, which conducted interviews and reported to the Eligibility Commission. Rejected applicants had 30 days to appeal to Refugee Office, the same body that had initially rejected them. In May, the Constitutional Court compelled the Refugee Office to provide asylum seekers with substantive reasons for granting and denying refugee status. UNHCR prepared appeals for rejected applicants it had recommended. Those whose appeals failed had 30 days to seek review by the Constitutional Court – an up to three-year process – to regularize their status, or to seek admission to a third country. Most failed applicants simply remained illegally.
About 7,800 persons applied for asylum, mostly from Colombia (85 percent) and Peru (13 percent). The Eligibility Commission decided about 4,900 applications, approving about 2,000 and denying about 2,700. The recognition rate in the first instance decreased from about 48 percent in 2005 to 40 percent in 2006. The MFA granted refugee status to 46 persons on appeal. There was a backlog of about 5,500 pending cases, about 3,500 of them in the rural areas.
UNHCR estimated that some 200,000 persons in need of international protection did not apply for asylum due to intimidation by Colombian irregular armed groups operating in the border areas, growing anti-Colombian sentiment, fear of deportation due to their irregular presence, and lack of awareness of their right to protection. The Government continued its 2004 policy requiring Colombian applicants to present judicial records on entry. Many asylum seekers arriving at Lago Agrio from the lower Putumayo Department in Colombia could not obtain the records, which were only available in Mocoa, Colombia, a five-hour drive north through rebel-held territory. The Government and UNHCR had difficulty handling the number of claims and appeals. Many abandoned the asylum process because of processing delays in the provinces. In May, UNHCR and the local NGO Fundación Esquel began visits to remote communities in northern Ecuador in order to identify and register potential asylum seekers. Many such communities were only accessible by boat.
Detention/Access to Courts
Ecuador detained at least 188 refugees and asylum seekers during 2006. In 129 cases, authorities did not recognize their asylum or refugee identity cards. They caught another 45 without their documents in illegal migration sweeps. Five were asylum seekers working illegally and two had expired documents. Only seven detentions of refugees and asylum seekers were for criminal reasons. During the year, UNHCR intervened in over 100 cases. In nine cases, UNHCR's intervention enabled detainees to apply for asylum while in custody and speeded up the process for their quicker release. There was no effective public defender system and authorities rarely brought detainees before a judge within the 24-hour time limit, often holding them for months in preventive detention. In September, the Constitutional Court found this unconstitutional, but the Government released no one pursuant to the ruling. Judges rarely granted habeas corpus or amparo petitions.
The law did not penalize refugees for illegal entry, but required them to apply for asylum within 30 days of arrival. The MFA issued about 6,900 three-month renewable provisional identity cards to asylum applicants; these cards allowed them to stay in the country and granted access to public services. Applicants in the provinces waited 4 weeks to 10 months for asylum cards.
Upon registration, the Refugee Regulation required asylum seekers to submit identity documents or a declaration explaining the reasons for not possessing one. The Refugee Office often refused to issue provisional identity cards to applicants without documentation, even after UNHCR sent detailed letters explaining why the applicants did not have it. UNHCR issued provisional certificates to asylum seekers awaiting documentation, but these did not offer the same legal protection. Security officials often rejected the validity of UNHCR-issued asylum certificates and sometimes even confiscated or destroyed them. In December 2005, the Eligibility Commission began to recognize undocumented asylum seekers with positive recommendations from the Eligibility Officers, under the condition that they submit pending documents within one year. The MFA issued about 5,300 refugee cards valid for one year but indefinitely renewable.
The Constitution granted all individuals access to the judicial system, regardless of their legal status.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
In general, refugees enjoyed freedom of movement and there were no refugee camps. Asylum seekers without documentation, or with incomplete or expired documents, were in constant fear of police checkpoints. There were permanent immigration control posts along main roads, and police and soldiers often set up ad hoc checkpoints to search for weapons, drugs, and documentation during weekend market days. Many reported abuse, extortion, and inhumane treatment by police and soldiers.
The 1971 Migration Law and the 1986 Foreigners Regulation provided that the migration police could detain asylum seekers at ports of entry until the MFA resolved their cases.
The MFA charged refugees about $80 for international travel documents, but there were no reports that it refused any requests.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Ecuador allowed refugees to work and to practice professions. Refugees also enjoyed the protection of labor legislation. For most of 2006, work permits cost about $60, despite the Refugee Regulation's stipulation that refugee documentation alone would suffice for authorization. In August, however, the Ministry of Labor signed a ministerial agreement abolishing the fee. Asylum seekers, however, were not entitled to work and recognition as a refugee could take over a year, especially outside Quito and Cuenca. Many had to work illegally as street vendors, cleaners, waiters, or farm workers, and police frequently harassed or detained and sometimes summarily expelled them. In Sucumbíos province, young mothers without formal education often had no other option than to become sex workers. Asylum seekers and refugees could report cases of labor exploitation to the Provincial Labor Inspector in Ibarra.
Ecuador allowed refugees to run businesses and commercial activities, but general ignorance of these rights made licenses difficult to obtain and other businesspersons reluctant to contract with refugees. Even one of refugees' most common livelihoods, street vending, required taxpayer identification numbers and municipal permits that few could afford.
All foreigners were restricted from owning land near borders and in other strategic areas. Salary regulations meant that most employers in the formal sector required bank account numbers from their employees. As a prerequisite to open accounts, receive loans, and other services, however, the banks required Ecuadorian identity cards, which refugee visa holders were not eligible to receive. In Lago Agrio, UNHCR provided letters, which were often persuasive, to the bank director explaining that refugee visa holders had the same rights as foreign residents.
Public Relief and Education
Ecuador excluded refugees and asylum seekers from public relief programs, such as those the Ministry of Welfare provided. Refugees could benefit from national school feeding programs, if enrolled in participating schools.
A 2004 ministerial agreement by the health ministry reaffirmed refugees' access to public health services and basic maternity assistance. UNHCR and partner agencies provided basic health assistance to refugees, but this did not cover advanced surgery or major medical treatments.
The education law guaranteed refugee children access to the national education system, but also required certification of school diplomas in the country of birth. Schools often made refugee children pay extra fees or denied them admittance either because they lacked documentation available only in their home countries or because of anti-Colombian prejudice. In 2002, the Ministry of Education and Culture issued a ministerial agreement exempting refugee children attending primary schools from any legalization and certification requirements. In October, the Ministry of Education and Culture issued a ministerial agreement extending this exemption to refugees between the ages of 12 and 18, requiring them only to take a leveling exam to enter school; but it had not been implemented at year's end.
The provincial administration of Sucumbíos province formally included refugees in its local development planning but, by year's end, it was not clear if this was substantive. The Japanese Government financed a Human Security initiative by UNHCR, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme to improve education, community development, and nutrition programs in refugee hosting communities in the northern border area.