Ecuador ranks fourth in the world for hosting foreign refugees; Expat numbers are growing again

Dec 12, 2023 | 0 comments

By Liam Higgins

Despite its small size, Ecuador hosts the fourth greatest number of foreign refugees in the world. The United Nations estimates the country is home to 475,000 Venezuelans and 58,000 Colombians who have fled their home countries due to economic and security crises.

A United Nations study reports that 40% of Venezuelan refugees say that have resorted to begging since their arrival in Ecuador.

Only Colombia, Peru and the United States rank ahead of Ecuador in the refugee total.

The UN refugee office reports that 87,000 Venezuelans have received permanent visas in Ecuador while another 126,000 have completed the application process. Among Colombians, it says 72% have visas.

Ecuador’s Census and Statistics office says it cannot confirm the UN numbers, especially for Venezuelans since so many refugees enter the country through “irregular routes,” but says it estimates “about 500,000 reside within Ecuador’s borders.”

The UN claims that human trafficking is a major concern for arriving Venezuelans and reports that 8% of women refugees have been subject to sexual abuse. “Seven of 10 Venezuelan females also say they have been victims of violence during their travels to Ecuador, with four out of ten reporting cases of violence while residing the country.” The women say most of violence occurs within the family, often inflicted by a spouse or partner.

The report adds that the situation with children is “extremely complicated” with many of them also suffering domestic violence.

According to the UN, as many as 40% of refugee say they have resorted to begging in Ecuador, despite many having professional skills or university training. “Despite the fact that 46% of Venezuelans have university degrees, only one in 10 has obtained legal professional-level employment while four in 10 say they work in the informal sector.”

Among Venezuelan women, one in 20 works informally as a prostitute.

Cities with the higher concentrations of refugees, both Venezuelan and Colombian, are Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Santo Domingo, Esmeraldas and Ambato.

Expatriate numbers grow
Although Ecuador’s census office does not keep statistics on what it calls non-refugee “voluntary foreign residents,” a July study by the University of San Francisco-Quito reports the number is rising following a drop from 2020 through mid-2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report estimates there are 160,000 foreign nationals living legally in Ecuador, with Colombians, Peruvians, North Americans, Argentinians, Cubans, Spanish and British constituting the largest groups.

Guayaquil and Quito have the largest number of legal foreign residents, most of them from other Latin American countries, while Cuenca and Quito host the largest number of North American and Europeans.

The San Francisco University study reports that the largest concentration of “native English-speaking foreign residents” is in Cuenca, numbering about 10,000.

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