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The conflict between Ecuador and Mexico brings new uncertainty to migrants crossing into the US

Human rights lawyers wonder who will issue vital documents now that Ecuador has closed its diplomatic missions on Mexican territory in protest over last month’s assault on the embassy in Quito

CONFLICTO MÉXICO - ECUADOR
A Border Patrol agent with a group of migrants, some of them Ecuadorians, on April 25 in Boulevard, California.Gregory Bull (AP)

The recent assault by Ecuadorian police on the Mexican Embassy in Quito is also having an effect on the thousands of Ecuadorians who are in Mexican territory trying to cross into the United States. As of May 16, the Ecuadorian consulates in the Mexican capital and in Monterrey will close their doors after the breakdown of relations between both governments. The move comes one month after Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa gave the order to break into the Mexican diplomatic mission to detain former vice-president Jorge Glas, who was seeking a safe conduct to Mexico as a political asylum seeker, but is now being held in at La Roca maximum security prison in Guayaquil.

The Foreign Ministry of Ecuador has reported that starting on Thursday, Ecuadorians who live in or are passing through Mexico will have to go to the consulate in Guatemala City, or those in Houston and Phoenix in the United States, to do paperwork. That implies a three-hour flight to carry out simple procedures or obtain a document. And this option is only valid for those who have a valid visa, work or study permit. In the midst of the crossfire between Ecuador and Mexico, the first victims of the conflict are the migrants who are on Mexican territory irregularly as part of their journey to reach the United States. The law firm 1800-Migrante warns about the problems this can create for the most vulnerable groups. For example, when an Ecuadorian citizen is arrested in Mexico, “Mexican authorities have the obligation to inform the consular staff of Ecuador,” explains director William Murillo. But without a consular office that represents the country, “how are we going to find out about those arrests?”

Police guarding the Ecuadorian Embassy in Mexico City before a demonstration on April 6.
Police guarding the Ecuadorian Embassy in Mexico City before a demonstration on April 6.Nayeli Cruz

This problem has arisen just as Ecuador is experiencing its second wave of migration in 15 years. The coronavirus pandemic and poor governance have triggered an economic crisis in the South American country, where seven out of 10 people are unemployed or do not have adequate employment. The situation has been aggravated by the security crisis gripping the country. Since 2023, 66,000 people have crossed the dangerous Darién jungle in an attempt to reach the United States. On that route, more than 115,000 Ecuadorians have crossed Mexican territory irregularly since 2022, according to local authorities. Among these people, there are more than 20,000 children and teenagers traveling alone, caught in the networks of human traffickers.

The same questions come up in cases of kidnapping of migrants by organized criminal groups, such as the 95 Ecuadorians targeted in March near Tapachula, a Mexican city in the southern state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala. The criminals accosted the buses in which the migrants sought to continue their journey north. Another procedure that would remain in limbo is the repatriation of bodies of people who have died in Mexican territory. Murillo wonders who is going to issue the death certificates and exit permits for the bodies of Ecuadorian citizens. The lawyer explains that to repatriate a corpse, a family member normally grants special power to the consul of that country to make arrangements with the State. “Now who will be given that power?”

Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry later announced that “Peru will exercise the consular representation of Ecuador in Mexican territory,” according to a press release published on Monday afternoon. “The Peruvian Government will support the management and care of Ecuadorians in a vulnerable situation who are in Mexico,” the document states without providing further details. The statement said that the 18 offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will also help deal with the requirements of migrants in that country.

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