Ecuador relaxes passport rule for Venezuelans but many cross northern border illegally

Aug 20, 2018

Ecuador’s foreign ministry has modified the rule that all Venezuelans entering the country must have a valid passport, announcing Sunday that if one member of a family has a passport other family members without passports can enter as well. The change, however, did little to allay the anger about the passport rule that went into effect Saturday.

A Venezuelan woman waits to enter Ecuador near the Rumichaca Bridge border crossing.

In a new development, dozens of Venezuelans were seen rushing past Ecuadorian immigration officers at the Rumichaca Bridge border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador and authorities did not attempt to stop it.

In addition, several news media were reporting that some groups of Venezuelan refugees are bypassing the Rumichaca crossing, the main entry point between Ecuador and Colombia, traveling to other border crossings. According to Ecuadorian officials, there are 30 official crossings, many of them manned only part-time.

Meanwhile, hundreds of desperate people who traveled days from Venezuela, mostly by bus but some on foot, waited in Colombia, near the southwestern town of Ipiales, or at the Rumichaca Bridge.

One of those who decided to cross the border illegally was Mayerly Isaguirre. “We have no money, we need to move on now and get our lives back,” she said, out of breath from dragging her belongings up the steep hill just past the Ecuadorian border.

The primary school teacher, 37, was traveling with her boyfriend and had planned to cross legally with her Venezuelan national ID card en route to find work in Peru, where other family members arrived weeks ago. But they were stopped by the new passport regulation.

After more than 24 hours shivering from the cold at the border, she took the chance and walked past immigration officers.

“They didn’t stop us and didn’t say anything. We were just waiting around like idiots and had to do something,” she said, wheeling her fuchsia-colored suitcase across the open check point as guards looked on.

Peru’s government announced immigration measures similar to Ecuador’s on Friday, with passport requirements for Venezuelans beginning August 25.

“They’re in limbo,” said Gustavo Salvador, a Red Cross Ecuador worker. “Many people who are crossing illegally are going to be hit by fines at Peru’s border, and these people don’t have money.”

Ecuador’s foreign and interior ministries declined to comment. A spokesman for Colombia’s migration office could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Sunday morning, arguments broke out between migrants — those rallying for people to move on into Ecuador in groups while others argued they should stay and do things “the right way.”

More than a million Venezuelan migrants have entered Colombia over the last 15 months, according to official estimates, but Ecuador, Peru and Brazil also have received hundreds of thousands.

Over the last two years, especially, many Venezuelans have struggled to obtain passports amid the OPEC nation’s political and economic chaos. This year alone, 550,000 Venezuelans have entered Ecuador through the Rumichaca crossing, most of them heading to Peru, Brazil, or Chile.

In Ipiales, Venezuelan migrants who said they had hitchhiked for days were huddled under blankets and in tents. Exhausted and hungry, they scraped their last few pesos together to buy food.

Many like Jorge Luis Torrealba, who traveled with 12 friends and family members, including two small children, were unable to find space in the tents and were sleeping on the cold concrete pavement. “We are from the Caribbean, we can’t handle this cold,” he said, shivering despite wearing four t-shirts, two sweaters, two pairs of socks and two pairs of jeans.

Overnight temperatures in Ipiales, elevation 2,900 meters or more than 9,500 feet, drop in the single digits Centigrade, or the high-30s Fahrenheit.

Torrealba said he is considering trekking across the border to Peru but is afraid of what would happen to his children if he is detained. “We just want to move on.”

Sources: Associated Press and Reuters News

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