Ecuador Calls for Summit on Venezuelan Migration amid Tightening Regional Restrictions

The moves come amidst a rise of xenophobic attacks against Venezuelans across the region.

By Paul Dobson
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The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border has been inundated with Venezuelan migrants in recent months
The Peruvian-Ecuadorian border has been inundated with Venezuelan migrants in recent months. (Reference)

Merida, August 22, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Ecuador’s government has called for a regional conference to be held to discuss the increasing flow of Venezuelan migrants across Latin America. Collective action on the issue is necessary, the Ecuadorian government claims, to avoid “migratory chaos.”

The Tuesday announcement came as both Ecuador and its neighbour, Peru – both highly popular migratory destinations for Venezuelans – tightented entry requirements and border restrictions, in moves analysts claim will only exasperate problems of criminality and illegal immigration.

According to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, the proposed conference will be held from 17-18 September in Quito, and the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela are to be invited.

“It is the moment to exchange opinions, to see what different countries are doing in different aspects,” said Ecuador’s vice minister for human mobility, Santiago Chavez. “The worst that can happen to the country [Ecuador] is migratory chaos,” he went on to say.

According to data from the Colombian migratory authority, only five percent of Venezuelan emigrants plan on setting up permanent residence outside Venezuela, with ninety-five percent belonging either to a floating border population or to those looking to stay for only a short period in their destination country to accumulate savings before returning to Venezuela.

Nonetheless, growing Venezuelan migration has put pressure on fragile local infrastructure across the region, including housing and transport. Immigrant Venezuelan labour – generally flexible, highly qualified, and low cost – has benefited local business owners, but has at the same time driven up unemployment in destination countries.

Both the Ecuadorian and Peruvian governments announced restrictions on Venezuelan migrants this week, demanding passport identification instead of the previously accepted national ID card. The measures have left thousands of Venezuelans in limbo on both the Colombo-Ecuadorian and Peruvian-Ecuadorian borders.

Ecuador has subsequently eased restrictions, clarifying that Venezuelan children may enter the country without a passport as long as they are accompanied by a passport-holding parent.

Passports are difficult to obtain in Venezuela as passport-emitting authorities have experienced a collapse in recent months. This collapse has resulted from a combination of spikes in demand due to increased emigration as well as supply problems of the paper used in making the passports that have been exacerbated by the economic crisis and the impact of US-led sanctions.

As part of the restrictive measures, Ecuador has also declared a state of emergency in five provinces and Peru has tightened its border security, setting up dozens of new police control points and even building an Interpol office on its border.

The measures have received widespread criticism, with Paulina Murillo, a human rights specialist in the Ecuadorian Ombudsman’s office, explaining that they will only lead to greater problems of crime in the country.

“By demanding this requirement, we are obligating them to enter illegally. There will be strong criminal consequences of this,” she explained .

Peruvian authorities were quick, however, to dismiss accusations of persecution against Venezuelan migrants.

“There is no problem of persecution, we like Venezuelans, but we have to identify them for their own security and that of those who live in our country,” explained Peruvian Interior Minister Mauro Medina on Tuesday.

“It is about achieving a really ordered, secure, and regulated migration,” he went on to state.

Peruvian authorities claim that there are currently 400,000 Venezuelans in the country, 80 percent of whom entered with a passport and 20 percent with their national ID card.

The moves come amid increasing xenophobic attacks against Venezuelan migrants in recent months and a rise in human trafficking and violent crimes targeting migrants. Analysts have claimed that the new border controls in Ecuador and Peru will only push migrants towards illegal human trafficking networks in their search to enter the countries.

This weekend, a Brazilian mob attacked a group of Venezuelans on the border, burning their possessions and driving them back across the border following a criminal attack allegedly carried out by a small group of Venezuelans.The incident follows a pattern of similar hate crimes perpetrated against Venezuelans in Brazil in past months.

Likewise, Colombian authorities announced that 23 Venezuelans were amongst the 49 women freed from a human trafficking and sexual exploitation network in the port town of Cartagena over the weekend. The women were reportedly forced to work in the sex trade in a series of underground bunkers connected by tunnels.

This year has seen a growing incidence of attacks and crimes against Venezuelan migrants, especially females, with at least twelve woman murdered in gender-related attacks so far in 2018.

Entrapment of Venezuelan women in sex rings has also been on the rise, with local criminals often offering to fund airfares and accommodation for women who sign up to the scheme.

“In two years the number of cases of victims of modern slavery, specifically human trafficking, has risen 300%,” claimed Beatriz Borges, director of the Venezuelan ONG Centro de Justicia y Paz, in March.

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