Universal citizens or unwelcome refugees? Venezuelan refugees and migrant rights in Ecuador

Authors: Nancy Hiemstra*, Stony Brook University
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Latin America, Political Geography
Keywords: xenophobia, refugees, asylum, borders, Ecuador, Venezuela
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 34
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Amidst domestic crisis in the last two decades, Ecuadorians have migrated in large numbers to the United States and several countries in Europe. Many Ecuadorians have been the subject of U.S. immigration enforcement actions including deportation, often sparking reactions of anger and indignation within Ecuador. A decade ago, Ecuador framed a new constitution that enshrined ideas of inherent rights to mobility across borders and “universal citizenship.” Simultaneously, however, Ecuador’s vocal defense of the human right to migrate is being challenged by the arrival of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the dysfunction and near-collapse of Venezuela’s government and economy. While the Ecuadorian government officially promises to protect migrants and refugees, very few Venezuelans have been given refugee status, existing laws and policies complicate the efforts of Venezuelans to establish lives and livelihoods in Ecuador, and there is rising anti-Venezuelan discourse and xenophobia among many Ecuadorians, now further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on research conducted in Cuenca, Ecuador, in Summer 2019 and analysis of government and popular reports, this paper explores legal, political, and social mechanisms that collectively work to marginalize Venezuelans in Ecuador. I identify legal barriers to finding employment and regularizing status, individual and institutional actions to discriminate against Venezuelans, limited humanitarian efforts, and debates around the exclusion of Venezuelans migrants. I suggest that by examining state and popular responses to new refugees in a place that is simultaneously a source of new out-migrants, we can better--empirically and theoretically--understand contemporary bordering practices and the state of asylum.

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