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MIGRATION: Ecuador’s Open Door Begins to Close for Some

Gonzalo Ortiz

QUITO, Sep 10 2010 (IPS) - The Ecuadorean government’s policy of “universal citizenship,” which did away with visas or other requirements for foreigners entering the country, has clashed with the reality that Ecuador is being used for human trafficking — so now there are some exceptions.

After more than two years of free entry for foreign visitors, authorities announced this week that citizens from nine countries in Africa and Asia will now need to obtain entry visas due to “an unusual migratory influx” from those nations.

The nine are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia — countries from which the flow of persons to Ecuador has increased five-fold, or even 10-fold, from a few dozen to hundreds per year.

Leonardo Carrión, undersecretary for migration at the Foreign Ministry, explained that the measure announced Sep. 6 aims to prevent “the use of Ecuador as a transfer point to third countries by international gangs” dedicated to human trafficking.

Ecuador stopped requiring visas on Jun. 20, 2008, when it began applying the principle of “universal citizenship” promoted by leftist President Rafael Correa and consecrated in the Constitution in force since February of the same year.

Article 146 of the Constitution establishes that Ecuador “upholds the principle of universal citizenship, free mobility of all inhabitants of the planet and the gradual end to the condition of foreigner as transforming element of unequal relations amongst countries, especially North-South.”

“I don’t know where the idea of universal citizenship has come from, because there is no basis in international law for it. I think really it was an attempt to support Ecuadorean emigrants,” Íñigo Salvador, international law professor at the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, told IPS.

“Ecuador underwent a process of extreme emigration starting in the late 1990s,” he said, referring to a heavy outflow of Ecuadoreans to Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and other European countries, as well as to the United States. Although there are no official data, an estimated two to three million Ecuadoreans live abroad.

“Seeing what Ecuadoreans have suffered in other countries, and taking an idealist stance, supposedly to be able to demand open polices from those other countries for Ecuadorean citizens, this thesis of universal citizenship was proposed in the electoral campaign and later taken up in the Constitution,” Salvador said.

“Every country is free to decide what it will require of foreigners to admit them into the country, in the different categories, such as tourist, investor, resident and others,” the former president of Ecuador’s Supreme Court, Jaime Velasco, told IPS.

“It’s a question of sovereignty. Visas can be eliminated as a reciprocal action between two states. The furthest this has got is the European Union’s regime of free transit of persons and merchandise,” he said.

The change in policy and the visa requirement may be a response to pressure from the United States, where some of the citizens from the now-restricted countries travel after spending time in Ecuador.

That’s the interpretation of Juana Ordóñez, editorial coordinator at Dinediciones publishing, who has close connections inside Ecuador’s diplomatic circles.

Along with the announcement of the nine countries on the new visa list, the Foreign Ministry published a list of 174 foreigners who acquired Ecuadorean citizenship using allegedly falsified documents for marriage or civil unions.

The 150 cases in which there were inconsistencies in the documents for civil unions, with presumably forged documents, and the other 24 that led to false marriages, involved 167 Cubans, five Chinese, one Colombian and one Pakistani.

“Among the hundreds of foreigners who marry Ecuadorean men and women are those that do indeed want to stay and live in Ecuador. But there are others who are seeking citizenship in order to get an Ecuadorean passport and move with greater ease,” a migration official who asked not to be identified told IPS.

According to figures this official handles, in August there were 9,000 Cubans living in Ecuador. But the greatest numbers of foreign residents — legal and illegal — come from Colombia, estimated at 300,000, with 58,000 holding refugee status due to the internal armed conflict in their home country.

The influx of Colombian refugees has generated high costs for Ecuador, which is obligated to finance the processes of family reunification, and provide housing, food and general assistance until the refugees are able to live independently.

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, non-governmental organisations and churches, also collaborate in that effort.

The Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office Aug. 7, agreed to create a joint commission to study the refugee problem. His predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, ignored for years the request to take joint responsibility for a situation “that has not been created by Ecuador,” as President Correa has often repeated.

The government announced the immediate suspension of the rights associated with naturalised Ecuadorean citizenship if it was acquired through illegal means, such as falsification or forgery, and has filed related lawsuits with the courts.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary Carrión stated that measures are being taken to cross-reference data from the Foreign Ministry and the Civil Registry, where marriages are recorded, with the aim of reviewing documentation and preventing additional cases.

The Council of the Judiciary resolved to remove a notary from his post in the city of Guayaquil, where he reportedly participated in the illegal naturalisation of Cubans.

Also under investigation are another notary and the former undersecretary of Foreign Relations, Juan Javier Aguiñaga, brother of Environment Minister Marcela Aguiñaga, who faces charges for penal responsibility.

In Salvador’s opinion, the government “is stepping back because it realised that its thesis on universal citizenship is a mistake” and said he wouldn’t be surprised if an announcement comes soon about requiring visas for visitors from additional countries.

“The policy is linked to a range of considerations, not the least of which is national security,” he said.

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