Anger and confusion mount over government’s decision to accept Afghan refugees

Aug 31, 2021 | 23 comments

Ecuador’s Human Rights Secretariat is developing plans to accommodate as many as 5,000 refugees from Afghanistan but says it is not prepared to release details until it receives guidance from the United States. “This is a highly sensitive issue, both internationally and domestically, and our agreement with the U.S. requires us to proceed slowly and deliberately as we receive more information,” a spokesman for the Secretariat said Monday.

Afghan refugees arriving in Washington, D.C., are processed at an intake center near Dulles International Airport.

The explanation raises more questions than it answers for members of the National Assembly, local governments, former officials and members of the media. “When do the people arrive and where will they stay?” asks former deputy interior minister Carlos Dávalos. “Will they be housed in Quito or Cuenca or Guayaquil and will they be integrated into the general population? The country is already overwhelmed with refugees, with many of them begging on the streets, so how will the new arrivals be managed.”

The government has a ready answer for one of the most frequently asked questions: who will pay for the care of the refugees? “The United States has pledged to handle all the costs associated with the relocation and there will be no financial burden on the government of Ecuador,” the Secretariat said in press statement to the media.

Some critics of the plan are not convinced. “Without details, how do we know if this is true?” Dávalos asks. “This has all the earmarks of a Trojan horse and many of us will not be convinced otherwise until we know more. And we are told that this will be a temporary situation but what does that mean? Do these family go back to the U.S. in six months or a year?”

Dávalos adds: “And how do we know if will only be 5,000? There is much anger in the U.S. about refugees and what if Washington decides to off-load another 5,000 or 10,000 to Ecuador? Do we accept?”

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Former ambassador to several Middle Eastern countries, Mauricio Gándara, says the plan to host the Afghans faces major cultural barriers as well. “These are people who practice a different religion than Ecuadorians and who speak a different language,” he says. “They are also going through extreme emotional turmoil, leaving their homes and some family members behind. I have serious concerns about their well-being but also about plans to incorporate them into our way of life. Is Ecuador prepared to deal with these challenges?”

Gándara says there is also the issues of potential retribution from the new Taliban government in Afghanistan. “Will that government target some of the refugees who had close ties with the U.S. and come to Ecuador for revenge? We see this happening with migrants from China, Belarus and other countries. Is Ecuador responsible for providing protection?”

Gándara is also concerned about the diplomatic consequences of providing services to the U.S. government “Will accepting refugees jeopardize future relations with the new Afghan government? Or with Iran or China? President Lasso says he wants to work with all governments, regardless of ideology, but is Ecuador reducing its options by doing the bidding of the U.S.?”

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