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News & Analysis

Global Citizenship in Ecuador: The Gap Between Principle and Practice

By Nelsy Lizarazo

QUITO (IDN) - Universal or global citizenship is, according to the Dictionary of Humanitarian Action a principle, category or condition thanks to which anyone in any part of the world may be recognised as a subject with rights.

It’s an established and accepted concept, at least in an international sphere, which is directly linked to the universality of Human Rights. The concept of Universal citizenship fundamentally means that human rights are not related to which particular state an individual may come from and therefore must be protected and respected anywhere a person may find themselves. [P40] JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | SPANISH

The Ecuadorian Constitution, approved by a wide majority of the population in 2008 consecrates Universal Citizenship as one of the principle guidelines of Ecuador’s international relations in the following terms:

“It advocates the principle of Universal Citizenship, the free movement of all inhabitants of the planet, and the progressive extinction of the status of alien or foreigner as an element to transform the unequal relations between countries, especially those between North and South.”

With the introduction of this principle into constitution, Ecuador became the global flag-bearer for free movement of human beings and the elimination of borders. In other words, it became the vanguard of a completely new focus in the politics and legislation of migration that understands that no human being can be considered illegal as a result of their migration status. Without doubt this was a completely integrational focus that in time can eliminate the discriminatory difference between nationals and foreigners.

In the midst of broad backing from movements and organisations working for human rights, and despite direct criticism by conservative sectors of Ecuadorian society and the fears of a population with a high dose of xenophobia and racism, President Rafael Correa made public his decision to eliminate tourist visas for all foreigners coming to the country, allowing everyone to stay for 90 days.

Less than one year later, the government of the Citizens’ Revolution – a term used by President Rafael Correa to describe his project for government –reviewed the measure and re-imposed the tourist visa; first for citizens of the People’s Republic of China, and then, a few months later, for those coming from countries such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nigeria, among others. The Citizen’s Revolution realised that Ecuadorian territory was becoming a transit-point to Brazil and the USA and the opening of Ecuador’s borders also led to regional tensions, due to the “instability” that the measure caused across the continent.

Over the next two years, the influx of Cubans and Haitians into Ecuador increased exponentially and the principle of Universal Citizenship was found to have no applicable legislation to back it up and so the Interior Ministry and the police force intervened, exercising powers given to them under existing Migration Law.

In fact, back in 2010, the government set up a detention centre for immigrants to which foreign citizens found to have “irregular situations” and who have been detained in police raids are taken. In this place, that was previously a hotel and continues to be known as “Carrion Hotel”, people cannot leave until they have resolved their situation, either through deportation or through the receipt of some kind of visa.

Human Rights organisations and those working in the fields of migration and refugees systematically denounce the abuse of rights that immigrants in irregular situations are subject to. On the other hand, the authorities argue for the need to control immigration in order to guarantee people’s security and they have given assurances – right from the beginning – that the detention centre measure was taken in order to guarantee dignified treatment for people.

So, the principle of Universal Citizenship, an advanced principle as regards the right to freedom of movement, continues to find itself today with numerous obstacles both in a national and international context.

Nationally; Migration Law that has not been modified in accordance with this principle and, therefore, orientates many of the practices by the authorities and relevant bodies in a way contrary to the meaning of Universal Citizenship; in addition to an atmosphere that is unfavourable to the entry and integration of people from other countries due to the usual arguments regarding work and security.

Internationally; a region that, despite advances in integration, still doesn’t count on migration policies that are aligned among the different countries and, even less so, to the principle of Universal Citizenship; and a world in which the need to seek a better life in other places – whatever those reasons may be – is the object of business and is ground lost to the abuse of human rights.

Nevertheless, to count on the principle of Universal Citizenship in the country’s constitution continues to be a great advance from the perspective of those of us who believe in freedom of movement as a right and the exercising of human freedom: an exemplary decision that marks a long and difficult road, but not an impossible one. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 March 2016]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Quito | Credit: Patricio Mena Vásconez, Wikimedia Commons