Ecuador has been a country of emigration since the 1950s when the economic crisis affecting the agricultural production and the craft industry of “paja toquilla” hats forced the first flow of migrants leaving the rural zones of the southern provinces of Cañar and Azuay toward the United States. These pioneers, mainly male, who settled predominantly in New York and New Jersey, helped to lay the first migration chains that strengthened into 1980.
In the late 1990s, the country faced an unprecedented situation in its migration history, experiencing a complexity of outward flows. A severe economic crisis, in addition to other social and economic aspects affecting the country at the end of the 1990s, led to the second wave of emigration, with the year 2000 accounting for the highest net emigration in Ecuadorian history: 158,359 people, according to the National Police for Migration. The political and institutional crisis that undermined Ecuadorians’ trust in their own country intensified exponentially towards an exodus to the United States, Spain and Italy as well as other nations in the region, such as Chile and Argentina. It has been estimated that between 1.4 and 1.6 million people left the country from 1999 to 2005 (around 10 percent of the population).
Besides the large emigration flows, the internal conflict in Colombia has affected immigration to Ecuador. Since the beginning of the 2000s, a significant number of people in need of international protection have arrived in Ecuador, fleeing violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in 2012 that about 288,600 Colombians have crossed the border to Ecuador and have settled predominantly in the provinces of Pichincha, Santo Domingo de Los Tsáchilas, Imbabura, Esmeraldas, Carchi and Sucumbíos. Around 59,000 have been recognized as refugees by the Ecuadorian government.
Ecuador is also a country of destination for various migration flows, mainly from Colombia (mixed flows with asylum seekers), Peru, Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti; Peruvian migrants have arrived, motivated by the dollarization process of 2000. These flows were first characterized as “pendulum” movements, which turned into permanent settlements in the southern provinces of Loja and El Oro. The Caribbean flows intensified around 2008, when the Political Constitution promoted recognition of rights and liberties for people in human mobility in identical conditions as Ecuadorian citizens, and the consideration of people in human mobility became a priority by Constitutional mandate.
In the past years, Ecuador has also become a transit country for African, Middle Eastern and Asian migrants and asylum seekers (particularly from Syria) travelling to Canada and the United States. Transit processes have turned into longer stays, presenting various challenges regarding public policy and humanitarian response. The return of Ecuadorian migrants has also represented an important new trend over the last five years (people who migrated during the mid-80s, 90s and early 2000s). This is as a result of the world financial crisis of 2008 as well as immigration from Northern countries, especially highly qualified Spanish citizens and retired/pensioners from Canada and the US.