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Exploring the security-asylum nexus in Ecuador

Frontera Ecuador-Colombia. (C) Gabriela Patricia Garcia Garcia.

Since the early 2000s Ecuador has been a key refugee-receiving country. To date, there are 68,107 recognised refugees mainly from neighbouring Colombia, who are fleeing due to the internal armed conflict. While Ecuadorian governments have responded to their arrival differently, they share the common practice of associating asylum to security, criminality, and the irregular armed conflict in Colombia. My PhD explores this nexus: I analyse how governmental elites in Ecuador (de)construct Colombian asylum seekers and refugees as security threats during the 2000-2017 period. In other words, I study governmental practices of security and control, and how they impact on the (in)visibility of refugees and asylum seekers.

As part of my research I have conducted two rounds of fieldwork in the summers of 2018 and 2019. This June I travelled to Ecuador for 6 weeks to conduct elite interviews. I visited the offices of the National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ombudsman, the Public Defender’s Office, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Interviewees were from Quito, Guayaquil, and the Northern Border provinces. This time I conducted 12 interviews reaching a total of 35 interviews for my thesis. This data was incredibly valuable to allow me to complete my empirical analysis.

UNHCR poster. (c) Gabriela Patricia Garcia Garcia.

This fieldwork trip was highly productive for networking and disseminating my PhD research. I attended academic events at FLACSO-Ecuador on foreign policy and the Venezuelan ‘crisis’, and transitional justice, peace, and reconciliation in Colombia. I also organised the first Symposium on Human Mobility in Ecuador: Venezuelan arrivals and perspectives of migration and asylum at Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil (UCSG). This inter-disciplinary event welcomed academics from the humanities and social sciences from the UCSG and I represented the Politics and IR department of the University of Aberdeen. I presented part of my PhD thesis in a comparative analysis with the current Venezuelan ‘crisis’ as a paper entitled 'When the doors close: perceptions of threat and securitisation of Colombians and Venezuelans in Ecuador'.

The timing of my visit allowed me to get first-hand insight into the government’s measures to prepare for the impending arrival of Venezuelans. This was very helpful since my research studies this case. Some of my interviews inevitably covered this ongoing issue thus giving me privileged access to the experiences and opinions of governmental and NGO staff that work with Venezuelans. Besides this empirical work, I took the opportunity to conduct participant observation in the JRS shelter for Venezuelan families in Quito. I had informal conversations with the NGO staff and took some photos and notes in my fieldwork diary on how Venezuelan families continue with their lives in Ecuador upon arrival. Another interesting site was the School of Citizenship and Human Rights, organised by JRS-Ecuador. Here, I joined thematic workshops in which Ecuadorians, and Colombian and Venezuelan refugees and migrants participated.

Poster en el albergue. (c) Gabriela Patricia Garcia Garcia.

These experiences were very enriching. Conducting interviews at this particular time and going beyond my comfort zone not only provided important data for my thesis but also prompted me to explore other angles of analysis. This is crucial because as my completion date approaches, I now have some ideas and material to build new research ideas post-PhD. For all these reasons, I would like to extend my gratitude to SLAS for your remarkable support.

Gabriela Patricia Garcia Garcia

University fo Aberdeen

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