Cuenca asks for federal assistance as number of refugees stresses public services

Aug 28, 2019 | 18 comments

Mayor Pedro Palacios is asking the national government to declare a humanitarian emergency in Cuenca, claiming the city’s capacity to serve incoming refugees has maxed out. “We are beyond our limit to respond to the needs of the migrants and we need help,” he said.

The number of informal street vendors, many of them Venezuelan refugees, has increased in Cuenca.

Palacios made the request following meetings with business and university leaders. Executives of three chambers of commerce and the presidents Cuenca’s four largest universities presented the mayor with a petition last week, urging him to seek federal assistance.

According to the mayor, the city needs at least $1.5 million through the end of the year to provide services to refugees.

Estimates vary of the number of Venezuelan refugees in Cuenca, with the city’s foreign affairs office and the Casa del Migrante putting the number at 12,000 while a refugee assistance organization says it could be closer to 15,000. A year ago, the city estimated the refugee population at 4,000.

In addition, the foreign affairs office says as many as 2,000 Colombian refugees fleeing violence in that country have moved to the city since 2017.

In his request to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Interior, Palacios said that private charitable organizations as well as public services have reached the limit of the help they can provide. “Organizations supported by the church and private groups that provide food and clothing are overburdened and we have a growing problem of homelessness,” he said. “The food kitchens can serve only 1,000 a day and the shelters can take in only 100 a night and we need to expand this capacity.”

Palacios added that the influx of refugees has also led to a steep rise in informal street vendors, most of them working in the historic district and other commercial areas of the city.

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