HIAS Ecuador worked around the clock over the past several days to assist Venezuelans who were streaming into the country, crossing the border before they felt it might be too late.
There has been a steady influx of migrants and refugees into Ecuador from Venezuela via Colombia for months, but the Ecuadorian government recently announced that as of August 26th all Venezuelan citizens will need a visa to enter the country. Visas must be requested at the Consulates of Ecuador in Caracas, Lima, or Bogotá. Similar restrictions have been put into place already in Chile and Peru.
Given this dramatic change, people were coming across the border in droves, through Rumichaca and San Miguel, trying to enter before the deadline. On Saturday, 6,500 people entered Ecuador, many of them with specific needs, such as women with children; unaccompanied and separated children and adolescents; large families; and people with pressing health situations. The number of migrants entering Ecuador at the Rumichaca border crossing reached 11,000 over the weekend, an uptick of 30% compared to normal traffic, Reuters reported.
HIAS helped hundreds of people, sending 19 staff to support the operations. They gave information and held orientations, and delivered cash-based intervention for those who qualify. The team mobilized and worked alongside UNHCR and UNICEF.
HIAS Ecuador Country Director Sabrina Lustgarten said HIAS anticipated the influx, but everyone, including other relief organizations, was a little taken aback at the sheer numbers of people coming in. “We were ready, but the situation is very difficult,” Lustgarten said. “There are rivers of people crossing the border, it’s terrible to see.”
Some of the Venezuelans may have been in Colombia trying to get enough money to continue to Ecuador or other countries; others may have waited in Venezuela as long as they could before realizing they had to make a run for their lives.
More than 4 million Venezuelans, or about 15% of the population, have left their country.
Before the new rule, the vast majority of Venezuelans would show up at the border without passports, which are nearly impossible to obtain. After the new visa rule, only Venezuelans with passports who have applied and paid for visas will be able to cross into Ecuador.
HIAS Ecuador says it will continue to attend to as many people as they can, assessing cases and helping people get international protection and helping them get to where they want to go.