In Ecuador, the number of Colombian refugees rises every year. The number began to be significant in 2010, with 1,200 to 1,500 refugees arriving each month; in previous years, such as 2008 and 2009, this figure stood at 500 refugees per month. It is currently estimated that there are 53,000 Colombian refugees in Ecuador [es], according to official figures from the Foreign Ministry. With the celebration of World Refugee Day on June 20, the issue of Colombian refugees in Ecuador has captured the attention of the media and citizens alike.
Due to its geographical proximity, Colombian citizens migrate to Ecuador to escape the consequences of the violence caused by the armed conflict in their country. In Ecuador this has given rise to social and economic controversy with many Ecuadoreans reacting negatively to the arrival of the Colombians.
Octavio Villacreses (ox_villacresesp) [es], city councillor of Guayaquil, recently met with Luis Varese, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). During the visit, Villacreses posted [es] on Twitter:
Los refugiados son aún discriminados en Ecuador y sus derechos humanos afectados. Estamos trabajando para que eso disminuya.
As many users [es] have shared on Twitter, Ecuador has been named as the country which receives the highest number of refugees in Latin America. At the same time, a study carried out by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), backed up by data from UNHCR, shows that Colombia remains the highest-ranking country in the world [es] in the number of internally-displaced persons and refugees, with more than 5.28 million people, all as a result of the internal conflict.
The website Refugees United [es] collects the stories of many displaced Colombians who live in the rural areas on the Ecuadorean border. The highest number of Colombians is found in the border province of Sucumbíos where they engage in agricultural or commercial activities as a means of subsistence.
Numerous [es] humanitarian assistance campaigns have been led by the national government, neighbouring countries and organisations such as the UN, UNHCR [es], CODHES [es] and Doctors Without Borders to improve the conditions of thousands of displaced Colombians on Ecuadorean territory.
The UNHCR has shared a series of videos on the Internet which illustrate the reality for thousands of refugees on the Ecuadorean border:
In turn, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has declared [es] that he condemns all forms of xenophobia. He also states that the policy of open borders with Colombia has nothing to do with the growing “wave of delinquency”, and that the prison population is minimal in relation to the economically active population which boosts the Ecuadorean economy.
The head of state also referred to the Andean community alliance and the pact between countries like Colombia, Peru and Bolivia which promotes human mobility in the region. Moreover, the President called on Colombians to declare themselves and demonstrate that they are citizens fleeing from an armed conflict and that they have not come to commit criminal acts.
In relation to recent criticism of the Ecuadorean state for demanding a police history document from Colombians seeking asylum, Luis Varese [es] from UNHCR stated that the state “has the right, just as it grants refuge and asylum, to check the cases which it considers to be appropriate”.
On Sunday, June 17, 2012, a mobilisation was carried out in support of refugees with some Twitter users inviting more people to join the cause, such as Vanessa Hervás (@VanessaHervas) [es]:
Actividades este domingo 17 en Quito a propósito del Dia Mundial del Refugiado. En Bici desde la Plaza de la Independencia a la Carolina
Christian Salas (@CSalasteleSUR) [es], correspondent for Ecuador for teleSUR, shares the most recent figures:
Hasta el mes de mayo de este año #Ecuador ha reconocido a 56 200 refugiados,de los cuales, el 98.5%son colombianos. @ecuainm
Finally, the Jesuit Service for Refugees and Migrants in Ecuador (@serviciojesuita) [es] notes:
“La integración de los refugiados y migrantes a la sociedad, es un derecho que enriquece nuestra cultura” @SJRLAC“