Once a transit point for Venezuelan refugees headed to Peru, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, new statistics show that Ecuador is increasingly becoming a final destination.
In January, only six percent of Venezuelans who entered Ecuador at its northern border with Colombia remained in the country, according to the interior ministry. In July, that number increased to 47 percent.
According to officials, there are a number of reasons why more refugees have decided to stay. “A major one is that it became much harder to enter Peru when that government began requiring valid passports and visas in June,” says Daniel Regalado, president of the Venezuelan Civil Association of Ecuador. “These documents are almost impossible to obtain in Venezuela so most refugees cannot cross that border legally.”
Another reason more Venezuelans are staying is that living and employment conditions are no better in other countries. “The economies of Colombia, Peru and Chile are no better than Ecuador’s and refugees are deciding there’s no reason to move on,” Regalado says. “Colombia is overwhelmed with migrants and the situation is not much better in Peru, where the overall level of poverty is much worse than in Ecuador.”
José Iván Dávalos, director of the International Organization for Migration, says that another attraction for Venezuelans is that Ecuador is closer to home. “Many of those leaving Venezuela hope to go home one day and if they relocate in Peru or Chile, going back to visit family will be more difficult as will a permanent move back if that becomes an option.”
Although Ecuador has less stringent entry requirement than Peru, President Lenin Moreno worries that the number of refugees could overwhelm the country’s ability to accommodate them. “The United Nations estimates there will have 500,000 Venezuelan migrants by the end of the 2019 and we have to be realistic about our ability to provide for new residents, especially the social services for the children and the elderly. We are monitoring the situation very closely and will respond as necessary.”