Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Ecuador

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Ecuador , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Ecuador hosted 9,100 refugees, including 3,500 recognized refugees and 5,600 persons awaiting determination of their asylum claims. All but 126 were Colombians. In 2002, the number of asylum applications by Colombians in Ecuador increased significantly, with some 500 Colombians applying every month. An estimated 75,000 other Colombians may have been living in Ecuador in refugee-like circumstances.

Colombian Refugees

Colombians flee to Ecuador to escape increased conflict between Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries and their human rights violations. Some also flee the U.S.-funded coca fumigation program.

The Ecuadorian government and people have welcomed Colombian refugees more than their counterparts in Venezuela and Panama, in part because of strong social, familial, and economic links. Refugees in Ecuador enjoy all rights accorded foreigners generally, plus the rights to work and own property, identity documents, and public education. Refugees who remain in Ecuador for more than three years are eligible to apply for permanent residence and, eventually, citizenship. The Ecuadorian authorities occasionally arrest and detain Colombians who enter without documentation, but generally release them after they are identified as asylum seekers.

Estimates of the number of Colombians who have sought refuge in Ecuador vary significantly. Besides the 9,100 registered refugees, tens of thousands of other Colombians are living in Ecuador because of the conflict in Colombia.

Since 2001, the number of Colombians living in refugee-like circumstances in Ecuador has risen sharply, although no precise figures exist. According to the October 17, 2002 New York Times, the Ecuadorian Migratory Police estimate that more than 200,000 Colombians have entered Ecuador in recent years and remained there. A June 22, 2002 report by the Washington Office on Latin America said that some 37,000 Colombians fled to Ecuador during the first half of 2002 alone. The number of Colombians living in refugee-like circumstances in Ecuador could be as many as 75,000 – perhaps more.

Most of the recognized Colombian refugees and Colombian asylum seekers in Ecuador live in the country's two largest cities, Quito and Guayaquil, while most undocumented Colombians live in the provinces bordering Colombia, particularly in the towns of Ibarra, Santo Domingo de los Colorados, and Lago Agrio. The Colombian consulate in Santo Domingo reports that 10,000 Colombians are registered as living there, but many other Colombians live there without documentation.

Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries both use Lago Agrio, a town of less than 50,000 inhabitants just 12 miles from the Colombian border, as a center for espionage and a transit center for weapons and other supplies. The groups attack each other, Colombian refugees living there, and local people. During May alone, there were 68 murders in Lago Agrio. In February, Colombian guerrillas forced the residents of six Ecuadorian villages to abandon their homes. In response to the growing insecurity, the Ecuadorian authorities assigned an additional 1,000 soldiers to the border provinces.

Ecuador has 14 percent unemployment, and as much as 70 percent of the population lives in poverty – 20 percent in "absolute poverty," according to the UN. An estimated one in five Ecuadorians has reportedly migrated abroad for economic reasons. Competition between refugees and locals for scarce jobs and resources, and the increase in violence in border areas that many Ecuadorians attribute to the refugees' presence, causes friction between the two groups.

Search Refworld