Steady flow of Haitians, Asians and Africans through Ecuador prompts human trafficking investigation
Most of the migrants enter Ecuador at the Peruvian border, at Huaquillas, and almost none of them plan to stay. According to the Foreign Ministry, the estimated 200 Haitians, Asians and Africans entering the country each day are met by so-called travel coordinators who put them on buses headed to Machala and Guayaquil where they make connections to Tulcán, on the Colombian border.
“Most of them lived in Peru or Brazil for a period of time but found the situation unsustainable, especially after the pandemic began,” says Paúl Jiménez, police commander in Carchi Province, bordering Colombia. “There are small communities of migrants in those countries, especially for Haitians, but life was never easy there and now they are moving north. The ones I talk to say they are going to the United States but most of them don’t want to talk, even if they speak Spanish.”
Prosecutors are investigating the travel coordinators who transport the migrants from the southern to northern border and take them across the Colombian border on allegations they engage in human trafficking. “We have not yet discovered a widespread pattern of illegality since most of it is informal.” says an unnamed attorney involved in the investigation. “It is difficult to get information due to language barriers and the fact that most of the migrants do not want to talk to government people. The amount of money exchanged for services is small, usually less than $100 per person.”
Because of pandemic restrictions at the border bridge connecting Tulcán to Ipiales, on the Colombian side, most of the migrants go to nearby border communities known to have informal trails across the border. “They take taxis to Urbina and Sante Fe, outside of Tulcán, where the coordinators walk them across the border,” Jiménez says.
The unnamed investigator says several of the coordinators have been detained and interviewed but few migrants are willing to cooperate. “We have translators for several of the African and Asian languages but unless they agree to talk to us our ability to gather information is limited,” he says.