Landmark decision for the protection of refugees in Ecuador -

Landmark decision for the protection of refugees in Ecuador

Colombian Indigenous refugees - located on the border with Ecuador. Photo: NRC/David Garcia
Colombian Indigenous refugees - located on the border with Ecuador. Photo: NRC/David Garcia
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador recently raised the hopes of hundreds of people who have been forced to flee the violence in Colombia. A landmark decision by the Constitutional Court in Ecuador has struck down the most restrictive provisions of a decree limiting access to asylum.

Ecuador has a long tradition as a leading provider of asylum to those fleeing violence in their home countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has highlighted the efforts made by Ecuador since the start of the humanitarian crisis in Colombia. However, to date no more than 57,000 refugees have been granted refugee status in Ecuador, 98% of these are Colombians.

Since June 2012, Decree 1182 has imposed two main barriers for those seeking asylum in Ecuador, including the need to register with the authorities within 15 days of arrival in the country. This is particularly difficult for those crossing the border from Colombia in remote rural areas. They are often unaware of the rule and may lack the money to travel to a designated city to report to the authorities – sometimes 4 hours drive away. Some are traumatised by their experiences of conflict and fear reporting to the authorities. Organisations working with refugees point out that the majority of new arrivals fail to comply and are subsequently denied refugee status, becoming illegal migrants. They are unable to work; access housing and most importantly, risk being deported back to Colombia.

Decree 1182 also requires refugees to be able to prove they were subjected to individual persecution, which is based on the 1951 Refugee Convention. However in the past Ecuador had adopted a much broader definition of refugees set out in the Cartagena Declaration, the overarching regional human rights instrument. This also recognises those fleeing generalised violence or massive violations of human rights as refugees and applies to many Colombians who would otherwise be excluded. It is significant that in 2013, during the period immediately following the enactment of the Decree, the refugee recognition rate reached a record low of 16 per cent; for every 100 people who applied international protection, only 16 obtained the status.

In response to an application by national and international organisations working with refugees in Ecuador (including NRC programmatic and advocacy initiatives), 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. It also expands the refugee definition to reflect the Cartagena Declaration – to include “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order”. Through this decision, the Constitutional Court has upheld Ecuador´s international legal obligations towards refugees. 

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 

Holding Out in Ecuador

Photo: NRC/David Garcia

Rubí and her mother were forced to abandon their land in Colombia and flee to Ecuador after having endured over five years of threats, harassment and theft. Aged 16,

Rubí had to abandon education to help her mother survive and pay rent. They could only afford to eat once a day:

I worked collecting plastic bottles or doing house cleaning. This was painful work as the house owner asked me to clean pipes and I injured my hand. We sought help from the government of Ecuador but they told us that we were refugees and should consider going home.

Rubí got pregnant and lost her job. She and her mother found a small room with no running water or cooking facilities. Its dampness began to affect her health. Fortunately, her mother was offered a room in a community hall in return for caretaking duties. This transformed their lives. After giving birth, Rubí was able to return to school and hopes to continue studying to improve their family income. She knows they may be asked to leave the community hall. She hopes that when this happens she will be able to apply to receive a decent place to bring up her child.

Key Figures:

Population (in millions):
New refugees from in 2014:
1 756
Total number of refugees from::
365 029
Internally Displaced Persons:
6 044 200
Refugees from other countries:
Voluntary returns in 2014:
Figures updated September 2015

NRC Colombia Fact Sheet:

  Visit the regional website for detailed
  information about our projects in Colombia,
  Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador.

About NRC programmes in Colombia

  •  Facts
    Established: : 1991
    Country Office: Bogotá
    Field offices: Cucuta and Ocaña (Norte de Santander), Pasto and Tumaco (Nariño), Popayan, Guapi (Cauca), Santa Marta (Magdalena) and Panamá city (Panama), Quito and Esmeraldas (Ecuador) and San Cristobal (Venezuela)
  •  Contact info
    Country Director: Christian Visnes
    Phone: +57 313 4223614
  •  Employees
    International staff: 2
    National staff: 106
  •  Budget
    2015: 9,6 million USD
    2014: 9,5 million USD

Key Indicators in 2013:

  •  Education
    # of learners who pass the final exam/assessment 201
    # of new learners enrolled 3712
    # of participants in community sensitisation sessions 188
    # of teachers trained 767

    Total # of direct beneficiaries 9756

  •  ICLA

    # of closed cases for legal assistance 2115
    # of opened cases for legal assistance 8636
    # of persons receiving counselling services 8141
    # of persons receiving information services 11734
    # of persons receiving training 8058

    Total # of direct beneficiaries 27933


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