Ecuador’s constitutional court has declared Decree 1182 “unconstitutional” giving hope to hundreds of Colombian refugees and asylum seekers, half of whom are women. They will now have a greater chance to enjoy international protection from the Ecuadorian state, including access to housing.

Despite its long tradition as a leading provider of asylum to those fleeing violence in their home countries, the South American nation had in place a piece of national legislation, Decree 1182, that put in risk the rights of refugees and asylum seekers as afforded by international law.

Decree 1182 challenged the provisions of the Cartagena Declaration, the regional agreement on the international protection of refugees in Latin America,  eliminating its broader refugee definition and setting out more restrictive procedures for admission. The decree also put in place more restrictive administrative procedures for asylum applications, setting a limit of 15 days from entry into Ecuadorian territory for asylum seekers to make a formal claim for refugee status in person at one of the governmental refugee offices.

This posed a major problem for many asylum seekers who are unaware of the regulations and who are located far from government offices. Consequently, there has been a significant decrease in the number of successful applications. According to official figures, only 16 out of 100 applicants are granted asylum. The vast majority of Colombians who are denied refugee status remain in Ecuador as irregular migrants and are thus unable to access their housing rights from the state.

In response to an application by NRC and other national and international organisations working with refugees in Ecuador, the Constitutional Court declared that Decree 1182 violates the principle of equality enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution. The Court’s decision extends the time period for newly arrived refugees to register, from 15 days to three months. This will improve the chances that applications are made and considered adequately. In addition, the constitutional court also extended the definition of refugees to include those fleeing violence in their country of origin, which directly applies to Colombian refugees and asylum seekers.

Those fleeing the conflict in Colombia arrive into an already challenging housing situation in Ecuador. According to UNHCR, 60 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers settle in marginal and poor urban areas, mainly in Quito, Guayaquil and other cities, while around 40 per cent reside in isolated regions along the northern border, with limited access to basic services and poor infrastructure.

A recent NRC report about the situation of Colombian women refugees in Ecuador included a recommendation to the government of Ecuador to “promote the creation of new legislation relating to refugees which is in accordance with the provisions and rights included in the Constitution and international human rights instruments.” This report is available in English and in Spanish.

NRC runs a regional programme aiming to respond to the need for international protection of Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Venezuela, Ecuador and Panamá, including access to information, counselling and legal assistance. For more information about this programme, visit www.nrc.org.co  

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