Press Release

IACHR Concerned about Ecuador’s New Measures to Address Forced Migration of Venezuelans

February 27, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the new measures taken to address the forced migration of Venezuelans in Ecuador, which involve demands for apostilled or otherwise legalized documents and police and immigration authority checkpoints on Rumichaca International Bridge, on the border with Colombia. The Commission urges the Ecuadorian State to protect the rights of Venezuelans, particularly their rights to seek and obtain asylum, to non-refoulement and to equality and non-discrimination. The IACHR further asks Ecuador to take into consideration Resolution 2/18 on the Forced Migration of Venezuelans in any measures it adopts.

The Commission notes that, based on official reports, the Ecuadorian State had granted 101,404 visas and admitted for processing 2,500 requests for asylum from Venezuelans by January 31, 2019. Further, the State has adopted internal provisions to assist Venezuelans, including the Framework Agreement for Inter-Institutional Cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion to ensure adequate handling of migrant flows, with a human rights approach, concerning foreign citizens and children, adolescents and their families in contexts of human mobility in Ecuador, as well as the Comprehensive Plan to provide assistance and ensure the protection of rights in the context of the growing flow of Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador. Regionally, the IACHR acknowledges the leadership of the Ecuadorian State in the Quito Process, where countries have signed the Declaration of Quito on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens in the Region and the Quito Action Plan on the Human Mobility of Venezuelan Nationals in the Region.

However, the IACHR has heard that pedestrian crossings of Rumichaca International Bridge were restricted on February 15, 2019 and that, since then, police and immigration authorities on the bridge only allow people with the required documentation and families travelling with children to enter Ecuador. As a result of that, hundreds of people who did not have the required documents were unable to enter Ecuador or had to resort to irregular crossings as an alternative, and that may have included vulnerable people who need international protection. Police and immigration authorities have increased their control on Rumichaca International Bridge without considering the implementation of adequate safeguards that would allow such authorities to identify and address cases involving vulnerabilities or specific protection needs. The Commission also heard reports of people being pushed back at the border and of collective expulsions of people who had already entered Ecuadorian territory irregularly and were later sent back across the international bridge.

With Inter-Ministry Agreement 000001 of January 21, 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility and the Interior Ministry demanded that all Venezuelans who wish to enter Ecuador show their passports or ID cards with an apostilled certificate of validity, as well as a record of past criminal activity from their home country or the country where they have spent the past five years, duly apostilled or otherwise legalized, and only exempted children and adolescents from this requirement. With Inter-Ministry Agreement 0002/2019, Ecuadorian authorities regulated further exemptions from such requirements: 1) individuals with family ties of at least the second degree of consanguinity or affinity with Ecuadorians who live in the country; 2) individuals with valid Ecuadorian residency visas that are in force; 3) individuals who need to enter Ecuador in transit and who prove they have visas or immigrant permits from their destination countries. Further exemptions are allowed in “exceptional” cases, at the discretion of the relevant immigration authority or at the request of the country’s human mobility authority.

Such measures were adopted in response to the gender-based murder of a woman by a Venezuelan national. On January 20, 2019, the Ecuadorian State announced the implementation of new requirements to allow Venezuelans to enter Ecuadorian territory—which involved legalized and apostilled records of past criminal activity and certified Venezuelan ID cards—as well as the deployment of brigades to check the legal status of Venezuelan migrants on the streets, in workplaces and at the border. In that context, there was a series of acts of harassment, stigmatization and violence perpetrated by Ecuadorian individuals and media against Venezuelan citizens.

At the regional level, according to the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were nearly 3.4 million Venezuelan migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in various countries around the world by February 1, 2019, 2.7 million of them in countries in the region. This is the biggest contemporary forced-migration crisis in the region, as well as one of the biggest worldwide. The IACHR has acknowledged the important response of States in the region faced with the mass migration of Venezuelans. However, the Commission has also observed that those Venezuelans in many instances lack protection to effectively enjoy their human rights. The IACHR stresses its concern about the many difficulties and hurdles faced by Venezuelans to obtain or renew passports, as well as to be issued documents including ID cards, birth certificates, certificates of live birth and records of past criminal activity, and to apostille documents. The IACHR has been informed that Venezuelans face great difficulties to obtain or renew such documents, based on the lack of inputs to make them and on the high costs and long deadlines that may be involved in procedures to request, process and issue such documents.

The Commission has observed a lack of legal, regular and safe pathways to migrate, which leads some people to resort to underground pathways involving irregular migration, through risky land and sea routes to cross borders on blind sports. “That situation makes people more vulnerable—especially children and adolescents, women and indigenous persons, among others—and prevents States from having reliable statistics, implementing public policies targeting Venezuelan refugees and migrants, and identifying people who require international protection or have special protection needs,” said Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, the IACHR’s President and Rapporteur for Ecuador.

“The migration of Venezuelans requires a response based on human rights and on open doors to ensure protection for people who need it. Measures like closed borders, demands for official documents that people are not able to obtain and greater police presence can lead to restrictions in the right to asylum, and can also have worrying humanitarian consequences. Replacing the human rights approach that has been in place in the region to date with one that prioritizes national security would be a worrying step back,” said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants.

The Commission reminds the Ecuadorian State that, while States may adopt their own immigration policies and legislation, those need to comply with inter-American and international human rights standards and rules, including the need to respect the rights to seek and obtain asylum, to access territory, to non-rejection at the border and to non-refoulement and the ban on collective expulsions, as well as the right to equality and non-discrimination. 

The IACHR further urges the Ecuadorian State and all other States in the region to take measures in line with the Commission’s Resolution 2/18 on the Forced Migration of Venezuelans, especially refraining from actions like closing borders, restricting access for people who might need international protection, punishing irregular entry or presence, requiring official documents like passports and records of past criminal activity, and resorting to immigration detention and hate speech. In order to prevent discrimination and xenophobia, States must take positive measures like educational and awareness-raising campaigns aimed at promoting multicultural societies. The IACHR also calls on the Ecuadorian State and on other States in the region to abide by the agreements contained in the Quito Action Plan and the Quito Declaration on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens in the Region, particularly concerning acceptance of expired travel documents as identity documents for Venezuelan citizens for migration purposes, and to ratify the commitments made by States in the region regarding the concerted fight against discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 047/19