Cablegate: Refugee Report Highlights New Trends

Published: Tue 28 Dec 2004 07:20 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary: A recent study by a Quito human rights
organization, the Center for Documentation of Human Rights
Segundo Montes Mozo (CSMM), highlights strengths and
deficiencies in the GoE's and civil society responses to the
issue of Colombian refugees. The study says that while
Ecuador has good legislation on refugees, there is an over
emphasis on Colombians as threats to national security.
Current refugee efforts focus on the border regions while
refugees are increasingly found in Quito, Guayaquil, and
Cuenca. The CSMM report recommends a more coordinated
national policy on refugees and awareness campaigns on the
magnitude of the refugee situation. It comes at the same
time as media and NGOs are alleging the restart of coca
fumigations in Colombian border province, Putumayo. End
GoE Strengths and Weaknesses
2. While the GoE has passed legislation meeting
international standards on refugee issues, including Decree
3301 (1992) incorporating the wider definition of "refugee"
(still not adopted by other neighboring countries), there are
several current trends that may limit the human rights of
refugees, according to CSMM's report. CSMM found a growing
invisibility of the human rights concerns of legitimate
Colombian refugees. At the same time, CSMM noted an
increasing emphasis on national security issues at the
border. GoE attention is focused on migratory control as
well as the militarization of borders. The study recommends
that the GoE find a balance between keeping dangerous
elements from crossing its borders, while making sure
legitimate refugees receive the asylum they are guaranteed
under international agreements.
3. CSMM recommends that the GoE work on a coordinated
national refugee policy that respects Ecuador's commitments
under international agreements. CSMM also found a general
perception among Ecuadorians of the Colombian refugees as a
homogenous group, which they do not believe to be true. They
called on the GoE to gather more data on the age, gender,
occupation, etc. of the refugees in order to respond more
appropriately to their needs. The report also commented that
the new requirement of a police record check for Colombians
crossing into Ecuador, intended to keep out irregulars and
criminals, is increasing the number of refugees who are not
registered and have irregular status.
Stigmatization of Colombian Population
4. The study found a growing stigmatization of the Colombian
population as criminals, reinforced by some public statements
by high government officials. In March 2003, the newspaper
El Comercio published a Letter to the Public stating that
Ecuador should initiate a "Plan Ecuador" and claiming all of
the violence in Ecuador was due to Plan Colombia and
Colombians. However, from January to December 2003,
Colombians represented less than two percent of those
arrested for illegal activities, according to statistics
provided to the UNHCR by the National Police. This
stigmatization leads to discrimination in hiring, schooling,
and health. The human rights group recommends the government
launch an awareness campaign to help the public recognize the
magnitude of the legitimate refugee situation.
Civil Society Participation
5. CSMM asserts that Ecuadorian civil society has actively
participated in analysis and research on the topic of
Colombian refugees, as well as legal reform proposals and the
promotion of peace negotiations in Colombia. However, the
study found that there needs to be more cooperation between
Ecuadorian and Colombian civil society. Ecuadorian civil
society also needs to help promote a government policy on
refugees, the report suggests.
Refugees Arriving in Interior Cities
6. CSMM found that, increasingly, Colombian refugees are
settling not along the border region, but in interior cities
such as Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, where there are greater
economic opportunities. Refugees may also feel more secure
the farther they are from the Colombian border. Cuenca, for
example, received 826 applications between January and
September this year compared with 532 last year. This year's
applications in Cuenca are of note as they represent 12.8% of
all applications nationwide. Quito received the highest
percentage of applications with 45.9%. The report suggests
more research and data is needed on these refugees, as most
of the current information focuses only on the border region.
CSMM Call for U.S. Action
7. The Director of CSMM, Pablo de la Vega, said the MFA
should seek greater international support for the refugee
issue. At the presentation of the study, De la Vega called
for U.S. proposals to address the refugee problem as he
considers the U.S. the main player in the regional crisis.
De la Vega said $10 million a day is spent by the various
groups on the conflict. He suggested that because of the
large amount of money invested in the conflict, many of the
players, including the USG and the GoC, do not want the
conflict to end. De La Vega insisted there could be no
military solution to the problem.
MFA Reaction to the Study
8. In public comments, Christian Espinoza of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs' (MFA) Refugee Office disagreed with some
points of the report including the statement that half of the
Colombian population in Ecuador are refugees. The study also
emphasized that the refugee population is not homologous,
with many professionals settling in the cities of Ibarra and
Quito. Espinoza, however, said that the number of
professionals is minimal and the vast majority of refugees
are peasants, day laborers, and indigenous. Espinoza
believes that the refugee population continues to reside
primarily in the border area. Both the MFA and UNHCR
concurred that the best durable solution to the Colombian
refugee issue is local integration. The two other durable
solutions are voluntary repatriation and resettlement in a
third country. The MFA said they intend to keep the refugee
issue permanently on their bilateral agenda with Colombia as
Ecuador has to bear the burden of the problem.
Statistics from the MFA
9. Espinoza said there are three legal and 23 illegal border
crossings between Ecuador and Colombia. There have been
29,331 refugee applications from 2000 to November 2004, 8357
of which were approved. Espinoza said the number of refugee
applications in 2003 rose due to the UNHCR opening more
offices in the country. There has been a 6100% rise in
refugee applications in the past four years.
MFA Visits Border Region
10. As a new round of coca fumigations allegedly began in
Colombia, according to press reports and NGO statements, the
MFA's Franklin Chavez, director general for Amazonian and
Regional Affairs, as well as representatives from the MFA's
Refugee Office, the military, the National Police, and the
group Ecological Action, traveled to the border region in
Sucumbios province on December 23 to study fumigation's
effects on inhabitants of the region. The group Federation
of Peasant Organizations of the Ecuadorian Border Cordon of
Sucumbios (FORCCOFES) claimed the fumigations put eight
communities in San Miguel at risk. FORCCOFES leaders say a
shelter is needed for "internally displaced persons" because
of spraying's effects and are planning to ask the Church as
well as UNHCR to provide shelter to these Ecuadorians.
However, UNHCR says it has a clear mandate in Ecuador which
does not include sheltering Ecuadorian citizens within
Ecuador (which is the responsibility of the GoE, with
assistance from the Red Cross and the Church if needed). On
December 26, press reported an MFA statement announcing that
the MFA had determined that fumigations had not restarted,
after having conducted interviews with the local population
and local authorities. Samples of water and soil from the
region were collected for analysis. The MFA also concluded
that no persons were internally displaced.
11. UNHCR representatives consider CSMM a moderate
organization that uses statistical data to back up its
claims. However, a weakness of the study is that its authors
did not interview the MFA nor UNHCR. The report notes some
trends, such as the movement of refugees to the interior of
the country and the growing stigmatization of the Colombian
population, that need to be addressed both by the GoE and
civil society. Overall, however, the GoE seems to be taking
more positive steps to address the Colombian refugee
situation than neighboring countries.
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