New passport requirement for Venezuelan refugees faces stiff opposition

Aug 17, 2018

Thursday’s announcement that, beginning Saturday, all Venezuelans entering Ecuador must present passports, is being criticized from both outside and inside the government.

President Lenin Moreno at a Thursday meeting with Venezuelan refugees.

The new requirement, announced by Interior Minister, Mauro Toscanini, ends the current practice of allowing entry with the Tarjeta Andina or Venezueulan cedulas. “We are taking this measure for the protection of both Venezuelans and Ecuadorians,” he said, adding that the cases of crimes, particularly human trafficking, have increased dramatically as the number of Venezuelans entering the country has increased.

According to Ecuador’s foreign ministry, many Venezuelan cedulas are counterfeit and others cannot be verified by authorities. “Some of the cards show damage or deterioration, others lack bar codes or chips, so they are considered highly falsifiable documents,” a ministry spokeswoman said.

Toscanini made the announcement to the press immediately after a meeting at the presidential palace in which President Lenin Moreno met with a group of Venezuelan refugees.

The new rule faces stiff opposition, including that of the government ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) which is urging that the new requirement be delayed or dropped. Citing the constitution and Organic Law of Human Mobility, which allows South Americans to enter Ecuador with only their national identification cards or Andina cards. “This new rule may be illegal on its face since it targets citizens of just one country,” said an ombudsman office lawyer who asked to remain anonymous. He added that his office was not consulted prior to the announcement and said that the government realizes the legal conflict. “This is why the foreign ministry turned the matter over to the ministry of interior — they understood there was a potential violation of the law.”

The lawyer added that the rule could cause a massive back-up of Venezuelans at the Colombian border. “This could hurt our relationship with Colombia.”

The announcement surprised the Venezuelans who had met earlier with Moreno, some of them breaking into tears when they heard it. Only three of the 16 who were in the meeting with the president entered Ecuador with a passport.

One Venezuela said that it is almost impossible to get passports in her country. “In Venezuela, they do not give out legal papers, either cedulas or passports, nothing. There are many people who are extorting us, asking for bribes for false documents,” said Dallana Morgado.

“This rule means that it will be impossible for my parents to join me in Ecuador,” said another Venezuelan who attended the meeting.

Santiago Chávez, vice minister of Human Mobility, says the new rule is necessary to control the unprecedented flow of refugees into Ecuador, which has grown to more than 5,000 a day. “So far in 2018, 600,000 Venezuelans have entered the country, of which 120,000 remain,” he said. “We are forced to take measures to protect the country.”

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