UNHCR opened the Tulcan Field Office in 2010, covering Carchi Province and Sucumbios Canton of Sucumbios Province. Bordering the Colombian department of Nariño, on the northern border of Ecuador, the communities of Carchi have a long tradition of welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers. Tulcan also has the Rumichaca Bridge, one of the main official entry points into Ecuador from Colombia. The border is very porous, with dozens of irregular paths crossing the border. Venezuelans have used the paths since 2019 with the introduction of barriers to access territory. The paths also have been used by Ecuadorians and Colombians since the closure of the official border in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The irregular paths present serious protection risks and are controlled by armed gangs. The paths are difficult to monitor and make it difficult for the population to access information, services and exercise their rights. As well, there are no health checks along the paths.
Since April 2021, there has been an increase in arrivals of Colombians seeking asylum in Ecuador, as well as third-country nationals (i.e. Haitians, Congolese) transiting through Tulcan into Colombia in an attempt to reach the USA. Most refugees, asylum-seekers and people of concern will pass through Tulcan at some point in their journey entering or exiting Ecuador.
While a significant number of UNHCR’s persons of concern continue onward to other parts of Ecuador or third countries, some are seeking to return to Venezuela due to the loss of livelihoods and housing due to COVID-19, yet others choose to remain in the area to work in agriculture or other income-generating activities. UNHCR continues to work on improving reception conditions, access to humanitarian assistance, local integration, as well as ensuring security and health in the context of COVID-19.