U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Ecuador



Refoulement/Physical Protection

In 2005, Ecuador deported to Colombia one recognized refugee carrying a registered declaration of lost refugee documentation at the time of his detention. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was able to secure his readmission by intervening before the Refugee Office, which is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The Ecuadorian Migration Police denied asylum procedures to two African nationals at Quito's International Airport, despite UNHCR interventions before the Refugee Office, and deported them to Spain where they had initiated their flight to Ecuador.

Officially, Ecuador hosted some 12,900 refugees and asylum seekers at year's end. Of about 7,100 applications, Colombians filed some 6,500 and Peruvians, 500. Forty percent of the applicants were women and about 100 were unaccompanied children.

A 1992 Presidential decree implemented the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum seekers registered through UNHCR and its partner agencies, which conducted preliminary interviews. The Refugee Office's Eligibility Commission decided all cases and UNHCR participated in all sessions with voice but no vote. The 1992 decree required asylum seekers to apply before their legal status expired or, if they lacked legal authorization in the country, within 30 days of arrival, but authorities were somewhat tolerant of delays. Eligibility officers of the Refugee Office undertook missions to interview asylum seekers in different locations throughout the country.

The Eligibility Commission decided about 5,200 applications, approving about 2,500 in the first instance and rejecting about 2,700. There were some 2,500 applications pending a decision by the end of the year. Virtually all of the recognized refugees were Colombians. The annual recognition rate registered in 2005 was 48 percent, up from 2004's figure of 36 percent. According to the Government, 1,100 applicants abandoned their claims, but there was a recourse procedure for those who wished to reactivate them.

Denied applicants could appeal to the MFA within 30 days. UNHCR prepared appeals for cases the Commission rejected in spite of the agency's positive recommendation. The Commission did not give substantial reasons for denial, thus limiting applicants' ability to appeal. The appeals process also remained within the same evaluating body that initially denied the application. During the year, the MFA decided about 900 appeals, approving about 30 and rejecting about 800, with about 300 pending at the end of the year.

Although asylum seekers could apply for judicial review of their appeals cases in a Federal Court, the system was slow and inefficient. If their appeals failed, applicants had 30 days to apply for asylum in a third country in Ecuador. Most remained illegally. After three years, refugees could apply for permanent residence. The Refugee Office allowed denied applicants who returned to their country of origin but had to flee again to reactivate their cases.

There was reportedly a semi-permanent presence of Colombian irregular armed groups in the border provinces and nine documented cases of forced disappearances of refugees. The Regional Foundation for Counseling on Human Rights registered six cases of threats, one of rape, and three of armed assaults against refugees. Judicial authorities received the cases for investigation.

Ecuador continued to receive the highest number of Colombian asylum seekers in the Andean region and UNHCR estimated some 250,000 Colombians to be of concern to the office. Many chose not to apply for fear of selective killings, harassment, forced recruitment, and extortion. Colombian farmers fleeing indiscriminate illicit crop fumigation were not eligible for asylum.

The Government continued its 2004 policy to require all Colombians, including asylum seekers, to present judicial records on entry. These records were only available in Colombian urban areas, making it difficult or risky for asylum seekers in rural border areas to get them. With this requirement, asylum applications declined from about 960 per month in 2003 to less than 600 in 2005 but some asylum seekers crossed the border clandestinely to avoid official entry points. The deployment of 10,000 soldiers along the border also prevented asylum seekers from crossing.

Although national refugee legislation incorporated the broader "generalized violence" refugee definition of the Cartagena Declaration, the Eligibility Commission stopped using it in 2002.

During the year, more than 500 refugees departed to various resettlement countries. In early November, some 600 Colombians fled into the northern Ecuadorian district of San Lorenzo in Esmeraldas province to escape an upsurge in fighting. After the clashes subsided, most returned but some 200 remained.

Detention/Access to Courts

The Migration Police detained about 150 refugees and asylum seekers in 2005, 131 of them for lack of proper documentation. They also detained at least eight asylum seekers for working illegally and five for minor crimes.

UNHCR visited detention centers and prisons throughout the country and secured release for some detainees who sought protection. On several occasions, police and/or nongovernmental organizations notified the Refugee Office of the detention of asylum seekers and the latter issued documents certifying the detainees' status without UNHCR intervention. About ten applied for asylum within the detention center. In these cases, eligibility officers from the Refugee Office together with UNHCR traveled to the center and expedited the cases.

The MFA issued about 3,600 provisional identification certificates to asylum seekers allowing them to remain in the country temporarily. Applicants in rural or border provinces received them through UNHCR partner agencies. Certificates were valid for 90 days and renewable until the Commission's final decision. The MFA issued about 1,800 refugee identification documents and visas, which were valid for one year but indefinitely renewable.

According to the 1992 decree, at the time of registration, asylum seekers had to submit identity documents or a declaration with reasons for not possessing one. However, in the absence of documentation, authorities were reluctant to issue identity documents to asylum seekers, alleging that they required the original documents both for security reasons and for the prevention of human trafficking. The Refugee Office often left cases pending for lack of documentation. The Refugee Office exempted a few applicants who were indigenous or from Colombia's Putumayo region, where lack of state presence prevented residents from obtaining judicial records.

The Constitution granted all individuals, regardless of their legal status, access to the judicial system, including review of administrative acts. In June, the Center for Information and Orientation opened in Quito as a joint initiative between UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, to provide free legal orientation to refugees and assist them with court procedures.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

There was no restriction on the freedom of movement and residence of refugees and asylum seekers and there were no refugee camps. UNHCR maintained a few refugee shelters in the northern border provinces in case of mass influxes and some asylum seekers used them temporarily. The Refugee Office of the MFA issued international travel documents for about $80.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Ecuador permitted recognized refugees to work, run businesses, and practice professions and enjoyed the protection of labor laws. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources charged about $60 for work permits. Refugees could own and transfer property in most of the country but could not purchase territory in the border regions. The majority engaged in street sales but many could not afford the requisite municipality permits. The Internal Revenue Service reported that about 180 refugees applied for a taxpayer's registration number, allowing them to exercise commercial activities independently.

Ecuador did not allow asylum seekers to work and most had to work illegally in the informal sector. In November, the Refugee Office removed the explicit prohibition against work from the text of asylum seekers' identity cards. Although this modification did not entitle asylum seekers to work legally, it reflected some informal tolerance. Some asylum seekers working without documents bribed police in order to avoid detention. Others reported that the police confiscated or destroyed their identity cards.

In conformity with the 1992 decree, refugees enjoyed all rights recognized by the Constitution that applied to foreigners. However, local human rights organizations reported that government agencies and private institutions, willingly or due to lack of knowledge, often ignored the validity of refugee documentation, rendering it difficult for refugees to apply for and obtain driver's licenses, telephone lines, bank accounts, commercial credits, and other benefits. Most institutions required Ecuadorian identity cards for which refugees, unlike foreign residents, were not eligible. Refugees also complained of police extortion and ill treatment.

Public Relief and Education

Ecuador ratified the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, guaranteeing primary education to all children in its territory, regardless of legal status and the education law guaranteed refugees access to education. UNHCR and its partner agencies provided about $60 in educational assistance per child to nearly 700 children.

Refugees enjoyed social services equal to that of citizens. In June, the Ecuadorian Institute for Social Security (IESS) authorized the registration of refugees into the system. Refugees had previously had difficulties registering and obtaining social security cards because they did not possess the required Ecuadorian identity cards. UNHCR covered medication costs for more than 2,500 persons. The Ministry of Public Health and the Colombian Ministry of Social Protection subsidized care in the border hospitals of Sucumbíos and Putumayo benefiting low-income refugees, indigenous people, and nationals. The Red Cross, through periodic visits to UNHCR partner agencies, provided health and dental services to refugees.

UNHCR provided emergency humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers for three months. In September, the World Food Programme and UNHCR commenced a weekly food distribution program for some 6,300 refugees and asylum seekers throughout the country. A joint venture between UNHCR and Fundación Ambiente Sociedad sponsored a microcredit program for small businesses that benefited refugees and host communities. Beneficiaries received basic training in business administration and accounting and low-interest loans of about $300, funding about 100 projects.

The International Migration Organization's ( IOM) Border Development Program, supported in 2001 by the US Agency for International Development, funded local water administration boards and offered technical assistance to officials in small communities. IOM projects benefited some 250,000 displaced Colombians and residents in the north and gave drinking water, food, and hygiene kits to temporary refugee shelters.


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