The flow of Venezuelans crossing the Colombian border into Ecuador has gone from a veritable deluge to a trickle since the government began requiring visas in August.
“We were required to limit the number entering the country for the welfare of both Ecuadorians and Venezuelans,” says Juan Sebastián Roldán, personal secretary to President Lenin Moreno. “Our social systems were being overwhelmed and it was affecting our own citizens and we also discovered that many Venezuelans were being exploited in the labor market,” he said.
According to the interior ministry, the number of Venezuelans entering Ecuador from Colombia has dropped from about 2,000 a day to less than 50 since the visa requirement went into effect by presidential decree on August 26.
Roldan defended the visa requirement, which has been criticized by the United Nations and several human rights groups, saying the influx of refugees was more than Ecuador could handle. “We could not provide the services required, especially for children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups,” he said. “Besides being overwhelmed by the numbers, we were unable to determine if criminals were entering the country. Under the new requirements, we are better able to protect the rights and security of the migrants themselves.”
Roldan cited statistics from the Ministry of Labor that thousands of Venezuelans are being hired to work below the minimum wage. “Unscrupulous employers provide no benefits, such as inclusion in the Social Security system, and offer no employment security,” adding that the government penalized 1,200 employers for various violations. “Such labor practices hurt Ecuadorians as well as Venezuelans,” he said.
According to the interior ministry, more than a million Venezuelans have entered the country since late 2017, of which more than 300,000 have remain. Before implementation of the visa requirement, the UN had estimated that 500,000 Venezuelan refugees would be living in Ecuador by the end of 2019.