Around 1,500 Colombians every month, some 18,000 per year, flee to neighboring Ecuador in order to escape the armed conflict in the country, where they face xenophobia and uncertaintly over their futures, Spanish news agency EFE reported Monday.
Ecuador currently has 54,500 recognized refugees, with more than 25,000 applications still pending, making it the largest recipient of refugees in all of Latin America. Some 98% of these refugees are Colombian, forming part of the over 5 million displaced Colombians. In comparison, Colombia has 151 refugees, according to the U.N.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Sandoval called on the entire international community to recognize the “shared responsibility” of financing refugee areas and helping to resettle some of the refugees in other countries.
Juan Villalobos, of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service (JRMS) in Ecuador, explained that many of these refugees face discimination and indifference on the part of native locals and called on people to “put oneself in the shoes of the refugee,” to understand “what happens to them and why they come” to the country with often nothing but “the clothes they are wearing.”
Villalobos criticized the media for creating a xenophobic atmosphere through the over-reporting of crimes involving foreigners, contributing to the stigmatization of refugees, especially Colombians. He said that those who commit crimes should be punished regardless of their nationality or status.
Villalobos noted that although most refugees have been successful in finding jobs or starting businesses, contributing to national development, the links with crime continue to hinder Colombian refugees’ full incorporation into Ecuadorian society.
The apparently rising concerns of Ecuadorian citizens prompted Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to state that the “poorly controlled” refugee application process will be toughened in order to more effectively distinguish those who “truly deserve” refugee status.
Correa nevertheless noted that the amount of Colombian refugee applications had actually dropped compared to the first five months of 2010.
Foreign Minister Sandoval added that the government has made great efforts to assist refugees with education, health and state aid, making Ecuador a “paradigm of global solidarity.”