Where do you go? A glimpse of what life is like for migrants and refugees in Ecuador

25-year-old Yannete was several months pregnant when she arrived in Ecuador on foot after a gruelling 10-day journey from Venezuela, due to the violence in her home country. She made the difficult decision after being shot at several times back home in her neighbourhood in los Llanos Venezolanos. 31-year-old Juan arrived in Ecuador, again on foot, and alone with just a small backpack. He was forced to leave his home because the medicine he needed to treat a terminal illness was impossible to find in Venezuela, due to huge drug shortages. 18-year-old Desiré arrived with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Noa and spent 4 days living on the streets until they were able to find temporary shelter.  

These are just 3 stories, among thousands, from Venezuelan migrants and refugees seeking a better life in Ecuador. According to figures from the UN, more than half a million Venezuelans are now living in Ecuador, half of whom need urgent access to some form of housing.  

Yannete in her new home in Ecuador. Credit: Leo Salaz Z/ CARE. 

"People don't understand what we have had to go through in Venezuela,” says Yannete. “I would give my life for my children, I don't want to see them suffering in the street."  

Venezuelans also face several challenges when arriving in Ecuador when it comes to employment, housing, legal status, and xenophobia. National policies to allow migrants to lawfully live in the country, provide access to employment and economic opportunity, and combat xenophobia and stigma in the media and public spaces are all crucial for the well-being of migrants and refugees.  

In Ecuador, Venezuelan refugees and migrants struggle to find jobs and livelihoods, which means they are often not able to meet even their basic day to day needs like food and shelter. A recent study by CARE Ecuador showed the complications that migrants experience daily in accessing shelter and housing across 7 regions of Ecuador.  

The study found that the majority - 62% - of those surveyed reported that they had no form of work.  23% said they resorted to begging on the streets and occasional street vending, while 15% said they carry out informal and occasional work activities such as acting as recyclers and day jobs as bricklayers, carpenters and commercial promoters of restaurants and other local businesses. 

Temporary shelters for Venezuelan migrants typically house between 18 – 150 people. For mothers like Desiré, the main problem of living in these shelters is the lack of private space for feeding and caring for her daughter, as well as a lack of any recreational areas for children. Cramped conditions and a lack of safe spaces, especially for women and girls, can lead to increased risks of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV). Amongst those most vulnerable to lack of proper, safe housing are children and adolescents, survivors of SGBV, and LGBTIQ+ people, who often face discrimination in country.  

In Huaquillas, one of the cities CARE surveyed on the border with Peru, shelters are having to operate with reduced capacity as a result of the COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures. Despite this, there is still regular overcrowding due to the high demand for services. Extra spaces have to be made available to accommodate sudden increases in arrivals, or for people trapped by border closures with Peru and are unable to continue their journeys.  

Juan now lives in a rented apartment with CARE support in Huaquillas. Credit: Luis Herrera/ CARE. 

"Home is tranquillity, union, well-being. I dream of having a normal life here in Ecuador, I want to stay here," says Juan, who - thanks to CARE's support - has an apartment, while he looks for employment. 

It is hoped that through the support of organization like CARE, these shelters can become employment generating centres to give residents the opportunity to achieve economic independence. 

CARE Ecuador is providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in country, as well as other vulnerable groups who have been worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. CARE is currently working with grassroots organizations to provide psychosocial and legal counselling, multipurpose cash transfers, food, hygiene and women-sensitive kits, cash or vouchers for temporary housing, and distributing PPE. In addition, CARE is supporting people in developing livelihoods and sources of income by providing seed capital and training on how to set up a small business.  

CARE is also providing management of gender-based violence cases and promoting self-help groups for survivors of gender-based violence, to help tackle the huge rise in incidents of SGBV due to the COVID-19 pandemic.