World Refugee Survey 2008 - Ecuador
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Ecuador, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50cf5d.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
In 2007, there were as many as 500,000 Colombians in Ecuador and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 250,000 were in need of international protection. It recognized more than 14,700 as refugees and more than 7,600 were asylum seekers with pending claims.
In January, 37 Afro-Colombians who received death threats in Bazan, Colombia fled to Tambillo, Ecuador, where they had family and ethnic ties and registered with UNHCR. In late February, more than 300, including indigenous Awa, fled Tallambi across the San Juan River to Chical where they stayed with local families after guerillas killed the town's school teacher. In August, nearly 2,000 crossed from Putumayo into Lago Agrio and stayed for a week, following violence involving the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the military, and right-wing armed groups. Twenty-seven stayed on to seek asylum. In October, another 200-500 arrived following violence in Putumayo. The number of persons who applied for asylum increased from fewer than 7,800 in 2006 to more than 10,600 in 2007 due to UNHCR identification and conflict in Colombia's southern provinces of Nariño and Putumayo.
Ecuador carried out the refoulement of at least seven individuals during the year. In October, military officials reportedly turned back some of the hundreds of Colombians who entered Ecuador after violence in Putumayo province.
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 implemented the Convention and Protocol using the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which provided a broader definition of refugee, including persons fleeing generalized violence. The Decree prohibited refoulement, prescribed a process for seeking asylum, authorized an Eligibility Commission to decide claims with UNHCR's participation (voice but no vote), and provided a right of appeal and the right to remain while it was pending. It also granted to refugees the same rights that the Constitution applied to foreigners 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 regional agreements that guaranteed readmission to other countries, so Ecuador continued to assess asylum claims for such individuals.
Beginning in January, UNHCR turned over registration and eligibility interviews to the Refugee Offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Quito and Cuenca, which conducted interviews and reported to the Eligibility Commission. The General Directorate for Refugees did not allow counsel in eligibility interviews, claiming lawyers would proffer fraudulent claims, remove the element of surprise from the interview, and "judicialize" the process. Other than UNHCR's participation, there was no independent monitoring of the process. Rejected applicants had 30 days to appeal to the MFA, which was the same body to which they had initially applied. Authorities told appellants they did not need lawyers but did give them addresses of local NGOs in Quito that could help. In 2006, the Constitutional Court ordered the Refugee Office to provide asylum seekers with substantive reasons for granting and denying refugee status. The notification letters, however, simply stated that applicants did not fit the refugee definition and/or were not credible due to inconsistencies, but did not offer specific explanations that appellants could dispute. 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.
In February, the Government announced an initiative to regularize the status of around 500,000 Colombians and to process over 25,000 asylum applications, but by year's end had not done so. Of the more than 11,300 asylum applications that Ecuador considered in 2007, it accepted nearly 2,900 and rejected nearly 4,300.
Detention/Access to Courts
Authorities detained nearly 300 asylum seekers and refugees, at least 66 of them women, most for working without proper documentation. The law did not penalize refugees for illegal entry, but required them to apply for asylum within 30 days of arrival. In practice, the Eligibility Commission did not disqualify or punish late applicants.
The MFA issued about 7,700 refugee identity cards and 11,400 90-day renewable cards for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers' cards included applicants' photos and signatures and declarations that prohibited their deportation. Rejected applicants received notices that offered some protection because applicants legally had 30 days to appeal. If they filed appeals on time, authorities issued them new asylum seekers' cards. Applicants in the provinces, however, waited from four weeks to ten months for asylum cards or had to risk deportation traveling provincial roads to the capital to get them. The backlog of applications also delayed distribution of cards but UNHCR issued documentation to applicants stating that their deportation was illegal prior to the Government's decision of their cases. Refugees had to register in the immigration office to get Censo identity documents certifying that the national census had counted them as residents. Authorities often did not respect refugee cards and threatened their bearers with deportation but did accept Censos.
The Constitution granted all individuals access to the judicial system, regardless of their legal status. Church groups offered legal assistance to refugees and nationals in Lago Agrio.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Authorities occasionally forced refugees and asylum seekers off buses unless they possessed Censo cards but, in general, refugees enjoyed freedom of movement and there were no refugee camps. 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. Refugees tended to settle in the border provinces of Esmeraldas, Sucumbíos, Carchi, Imbabura, and Pichincha. There was a temporary shelter for a large number in Sucumbios, with additional facilities planned in Ibarra, Esmeraldas, and Carchi to accommodate sudden large refugee inflows from Colombia.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Ecuador allowed refugees to work and to practice professions if they obtained occupational cards from the MFA but, in practice, a refugee card often sufficed. Asylum seekers, however, were not entitled to work and authorities arrested hundreds for doing so. Refugees also enjoyed the protection of labor legislation and asylum seekers and refugees could report labor law violations 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 the most common livelihoods for refugees, street vending, required taxpayer identification numbers and municipal permits that few could afford. Most financial institutions did not include refugees in loan schemes but UNHCR-sponsored microcredit facilities gave loans to refugees in Quito and Santo Domingo to start businesses. The Constitution and Civil Code provided that refugees had the right to participate in business and to obtain all necessary permits and licenses. All foreigners, however, including refugees, had to obtain Censos or visas in their passports to engage in business.
Ecuador restricted all foreigners from owning land near borders and in other strategic areas. Salary regulations required employers in the formal sector to ask for bank account numbers from their employees. Banks often required Ecuadorian identity cards, for which refugee visa holders were not eligible. In Lago Agrio, UNHCR provided letters to bank directors, which were often effective, explaining that refugee visa holders had the right to open accounts.
Public Relief and Education
About half of the refugees lived in extreme poverty, suffering food insecurity double that experienced by nationals. Starting in 2005, some 6,300 refugees received monthly food rations from the World Food Programme, with another 12,000 beneficiaries added in March. A 2004 ministerial agreement by the health ministry reaffirmed refugees' eligibility for public health services and maternity assistance. In September the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, and UNHCR launched a campaign advising refugees of their right to seek public health services. UNHCR and partner agencies provided basic health assistance to refugees, but this did not cover advanced surgery or major medical treatments. In June, UNHCR opened a health center in the border town of Santa Rosa.
The education law allowed refugee children to attend public schools, but also required certification of school diplomas in the country of birth. In 2002, the Ministry of Education agreed to exempt primary school refugee children from any fees or requirements of documentation from previous schools. In 2006, Ministerial Agreement 455 allowed older students the same rights but few children benefited from the measure because of delays and official disagreements over implementation. Also, schools often made refugee children pay extra fees or ignored the ministerial agreements and denied them admission.
The provincial administration of Sucumbíos formally included refugees in its local development planning but did not implement substantive measures to assist them. The newly elected Government initiated a Development, Peace, and Social Inclusion Plan aimed at improving the health and education sectors of Ecuador's refugee-hosting border areas and expediting the refugee status determination process, but it provided only half of the funds for the initiative and requested the international community to make up the shortfall.