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Ecuador Streamlines Refugee Registration Process
June 24, 2009



The Enhanced Registration Initiative was created by the government of Ecuador in coordination with UNHCR in response to a) the large number of refugees living in the shadows along the northern border as a result of the absence of state entities or response teams in the area; and b) the inefficacy of the current system for determining refugee status. 

The purpose of this initiative is a) the implementation along the northern border of a more efficient system of interviewing refugees and adjudicating refugee applications; b) the extension of access to registration previously unreached by the General Directorate of Refugees (DGR); and c) a heightened focus on those situational challenges arising from the ongoing internal conflict in Colombia. 

In practice, Enhanced Registration widens the scope of eligibility criteria used in the regular process of determining refugee status, and incorporates specific staff members for each phase and function of the determination process (record-keepers, counselors, interviewers, the eligibility Commission, etc.) to minimize the possibility of arbitrary determinations by functionaries of DGR registration teams.

Enhanced Registration has finally begun in the city of Muisne in the province of Esmeraldas, and is estimated to last at least eleven months. It will unfold in various cities throughout Esmeraldas, Sucumbios, Orellana, Carchi, and Imbabura (Ecuador’s northern border provinces). Ultimately, the Enhanced Registration initiative hopes to register 50,000 persons living as refugees in Ecuador.

Development of Oversight Teams

Two members of the JRMS-Ecuador oversight team are present each week during legal assessment of applicants/recognized persons and in civilian representation within the Eligibility Commission. Each oversight team must present direct feedback through reports, correspondence, and meetings with the Enhanced Registration Coordinator and other related authorities. After the work of a team is complete, it must create a report for the central JRMS-Ecuador office and articulate follow-up recommendations and instructions for subsequent teams.

JRMS-Ecuador plans to continue its oversight over the coming months until the process of Enhanced Registration is complete. Additionally, our political advocacy team is working on various issues that have been identified by the oversight teams and within the Enhanced Registration initiative. These advocacy efforts seek reforms that will lead to a more integrated policy with respect to refugees.

General Assessments and Highlighted Points

The process of Enhanced Registration is perhaps the only measure initiated by the Ecuadorian government to implement the “Politica de Refugio” (the Correa Administration’s refugee policy made public in September 2008). Public policies and legal remedies for foreign persons in Ecuador are essential, in particular those policies that incorporate government institutions in the process of guaranteeing the registration, integration and protection of refugees. 

We believe that the criteria and procedures that have been implemented during this Enhanced Registration process should be instituted throughout the Ecuadorian refugee recognition system to reform the current guidelines regarding refugees and Refugee Status Determination. The current refugee process in Ecuador is undoubtedly in need of reform, as it has left unregistered at least 135,000 refugees, most especially those Colombians in the Northern provinces who are the current objective of the Enhanced Registration process. Gaps in the current system have given rise to arbitrary actions, substantial judicial and administrative errors, and adverse but baseless determinations, thus the Ecuadorian asylum system would benefit from many of the tools and guidelines specifically crafted for this year’s Enhanced Registration process.

Generally, the structure of the Enhanced Registration program—initial orientation, registration, interview and final orientation—is sound, guaranteeing the most efficient analyses and results. Additionally, despite initial logistical issues, the work of DGR interviewers, registrars, coordinators and counselors has largely been fluid and organized. Nevertheless, the Enhanced Registration initiative must continue to apply strong corrective measures to guarantee the best possible results and procedural quality, address the shortcomings of the current Ecuadorian asylum and protection system for refugees within Ecuador, and to lay the foundation for a necessary normative and institutional restructuring.

In the following pages we will highlight various points with regards the Enhanced Registration process that should be addressed to further strengthen this important initiative:

Challenge: There is evidence of a decline in the quality of work produced by interviewers, principally in diminished writing quality, testimonial errors, and lack of comprehensiveness in interviews. In addition, there is some concern about the degree of discretion used by DGR representatives in instructing interviewers—instructions that sometimes run contrary to the letter of the procedural manual as well as the spirit of the initiative.
Recommendation: An appropriate amount of time dedicated each week to honing these skills would do much to supplement the advances already made by staff members in terms of experiential learning. In addition, strict adherence to the recognition criteria outlined by the Enhanced Registration manual will help to eliminate any confusion or inequitable practices generated by discretionary instructions from some DGR representatives.

Challenge: Burdensome work schedules, exposure to the elements, precarious security and the intensity of the work itself has taken a high physical and emotional toll on the Enhanced Registration team. Such pressures, if left unaddressed, can lead to the erosion of the qual

Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
202-462-0400 ext. 5946