Migrants, Multiculture, Our People

Interview with Lorena Escudero, ecuadorian Minister of the National Secretariat for Migrants

She worked for more than 12 years with the University of Cuenca in the field of networks.  Cuenca, the city she was born in, is one where over 50 years of migration have changed the dynamics of reality. Bachelor of Science in Education, specializing in philosophy, sociology and economics, her life is shaped by research and academic investigation.


Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín  

Photos: Eddie-Lee Lawrence


It was in the latter, as well as in political reflection, that she found what is evidently her passion: the concept of the individual as a collective, both national and transnational.  Through her research and rummaging she has worked with international networks and was part of a migration project carried out with the European Community, which was coordinated from Ecuador and in which both European and Latin American universities participated.

For a brief period she strayed from what she had always involved herself with, when she accepted the position of Minister of Defense, a post to which she was appointed to by President Rafael Correa, ‘during a time when it was needed’, she explains.

It was 2007, but after a few months she returned to the area of work where she has had the most force in reflection and creation.  She became the Minister of the National Secretariat for Migrants (Senami) from Ecuator.  Here, what she does she does through what she calls the ‘new thinking’, along with people who, like her, believe that migration is an opportunity to change the world, to see the human being from another perspective, ‘making it through management and creating a though.  Not creating a thought out of nothing, but from the reality of migration, with the subject that is the subject of migration.’

Lorena Escudero Durán spoke, among other themes, about what Senami is, and what ‘Casas Ecuatorianas’ mean as an integral and ambitious program that wants to help those people who abandon their land for various reasons and who, whether or not they want to return, need a country of their own regardless of the land they have been given.

As the minister of Senami, she was recently in attendance at the inauguration of the Ecuadorian House in London. At the end of September, she spoke to The Prisma.

How did the Ecuadorian House start up? And what does it consist of?

With the support of our embassy and the Ecuadorian House in Madrid we did the whole process through fostering and strengthening existing organizations already working here in London.  Our policies emerged from Senami’s institutional planning of public policy but always connecting wit the real necessities of the community here, expressed with the previous work of organization and immigrant associations.  By respecting, listening to and strengthening these organizations we ended up with this open house, after nearly a year. Now there is haven, a symbolic space.

Is this immigrant house the first of its kind in London?

As far as we know there isn’t another like it.  Moreover, we do not know if there is another institute like the National Secretariat for Immigrants anywhere in the world which supports its citizens abroad, with a structure inside and outside of the country with the intent of providing care and support and offering services.

We know that there are consulates that carry out very strong work for their citizens abroad and that have developed important induction policies and attempted to create links with their citizens, but we do not know of another institution like the National Secretariat for Migrants. So we are pioneers in London, and I think in many parts of the world, in a policy of this nature.

How many houses are there?

We have five.  This is the fifth national house with this spirit of a home.  We have them in New York, Madrid, Milan, Caracas and now London, which are the places with the highest populations of Ecuadorian immigrants, and we want to be, in some ways, regional.  But we also have offices in Barcelona, and we will have sections which are going to respond to the more regional structure.

For example, we would like to have an office in Brussels which would be coordinated from London; much like the office in Barcelona is coordinated from Madrid.  We also have an office in Rome, coordinated from Milan, where the highest number of migrants lives.  And it is from Madrid that the European coordination originates.

Is Madrid the central hub, the place where there are the most immigrants?

Yes. And it was the first house with a much broader management model and it has been supporting efforts within Europe.

Was it the first to be created?

The first was established in Madrid, almost simultaneously with the one in New York, which has the support to develop from the embassy in Washington and other consulates.  We have this scheme: house, representative office and the people who work in the consulates.  It all depends on the size of the migrant community and the challenges and problems it faces.  That is to say, a combination of the three, which generally coincides with the number of people, but also has to do with their potential and the difficulties they face.

The houses on the outside correspond to the houses of migrants within the country.  We are creating a system and operating a system.  The idea is, for example: something happens in London that has to do with a family in Guayacil, or in Manta or in Cuenca.  There is the migrant house, not just our offices, in villages in Ecuador and the connection is direct, because we support themes such as virtual conferences.  Our offices resolve issues and provide the support needed.

Does the creation of these houses (which started with the government of Rafeal Correra) stem from the fact that the consulates are not doing much and that immigrants feel abandoned?

In the first instance there is a change of Ecuadorian politics through the consulates and embassies.  Before this government, ambassadors and governors lived with their backs turned on the immigrants.  The work of Ecuadorian House complements the work of a foreign policy that today has, as a critical point, the support of its people abroad, overseeing the process.

So it is about the entire Ecuadorian foreign policy but with a change of vision.  The institution supports and complements the work of the consulates and embassies, because it is a meeting place, especially in the community. It is operated and under the responsibility of the State, but with a different scheme where there is more meeting space and strengthening of community support services that are beyond the powers and authorities of consulates and embassies.

What services are we talking about?

For example, support for productive initiatives, a meeting space to strengthen the culture, sports, the community, legal support, psychological support.  Through the network of friends of the Ecuadorian houses we are consolidating where we can derive our services from, those which the state can’t generally give to a society in a country which operates under laws that are not our own.

We rely on local governments and on civil society organizations which are working in the area of rights and can therefore support the Ecuadorian community.

This is not a competition with consulates and embassies, rather we are working together to strengthen our network of friends and to provide promotional services, natural heritage services, cultural services, support for productive initiatives, information on plans and programs that we are bringing from Ecuador so to include Ecuador and Ecuadorians who are abroad in the work of this new Ecuador.  It is a political inclusion, a representative inclusion and a link so that they may feel that they are still part of this country.  At the Ecuadorian House the work we do complements that of the consulates and embassies.

Do these three groups quarrel at all?

We are complementary and mutually supportive. For example, the network of support at the Ecuadorian House has to be concluded by the three representatives.  Here we all are.

You say that one of the elements from which the Ecuadorian House draws most strength is the organizations which come directly from the immigrants, and not from official bodies.  In which countries have you found that the population is not as organized as it is here in London?

We have found associative movement everywhere but unfortunately in other countries they are widely dispersed with internal fighting and very assertive, although not propositional.  In some places, their aim has been to work against other Ecuadorian organizations and not to comply with them or work together.  In London, although there have been some difficulties, these have been minimal.

We find ourselves to be a community with a critical spirit when faced with positions worldwide that discriminate against immigrants.  We are proactive in the strengthening of the Ecuadorian community with themes that have already been working, linked to culture, politics and the construction of multiculturalism.

Therefore, issues such as a universal citizen’s passport, work for multiculturalism, for the respect for immigrants’ human rights. To promote human development processes for immigrants and their families, linking them with the country have penetrated well into the Ecuadorian community and those surrounding it.  This shows that the Ecuadorians are proposing a change of vision in the world.  This is what is happening in Ecuador and what should happen here.  The voice of the Ecuadorian community here is supporting them, giving an example of building a human, ethical, profound perspective which is linked to human mobility.

If an Ecuadorian citizen knows about the house, what do they have to do? Become a member? And, in practical terms, how does it benefit them and how do they gain access to the services offered?

It is very important to clearly understand what services we provide.  We are facilitators of support for people who are in a position of vulnerability o who need information about Ecuador’s programs.  One of these, for example, is ‘Welcome Home’, for people who want to return to Ecuador, to show them how they can now access certain types of support and information in the country and how they can participate in meetings to strengthen the country.  If someone has a problem with infringement of rights, for example, they are supported here.  We don’t give legal representation in civil matters because it would be impossible, but we could recommend a pathway to low-cost help that could help the person in question.

You don’t offer them a lawyer, free of charge?

Only if it were a strong case of human rights violations.  That is a responsibility that we have assumed as a state.  But how do we work in general? With institutions here that know the laws, particularly universities. This management model is adjusted to the houses, we are finishing our adjustment of the management model and the protocols of action, in accordance with reality with a plan that we have been following and that next year should be adjusted to the protocols of action which are shared with embassies, with consulates and the Ecuadorian house.

And how does this system work?

Immigrants have a necessity to build links with their community, to know where the Ecuadorian House is and to know, for example, when there will be training workshops here, referring also to the other places where we have out network of friends who give information that can benefit them.  We hold artistic workshops, management training in virtual classrooms, training for productive entrepreneurial initiatives, information about loans they can get within the country, channel information and the possibility to learn more about their own people.

There are people with so much initiative who want to serve their country and say they can give a workshop on a particular subject.  We want to give workshops on gastronomy.  Ecuadorians have restaurants here and they can hold courses and workshops for the new immigrants.  It will be a kind of employment exchange; they will give workshops and they themselves can later become trained.  Also, we talk about workshops in creativity and others which are going to be organized in the planning we are doing for these community services.  There is also a cultural centre and much more.

Such proposals create too many expectations for immigrants. Isn’t there a fear that you will get into debt, or that the projects won’t live up to expectations?

It is very important, that we don’t generate expectations that are beyond reality.  This is a symbolic space; the house is not an enormous house that we would fit everyone, when we want to meet.  It is a symbolic space for meeting, information, support so that we may feel that we are together.  We have the network of friends of the Ecuadorian House, so that we can derive services that Ecuador cannot provide here, but that we derive through information.  That the people have a space where they can ask for support when they need information about needs that they have, or courses that they don’t necessarily provide here.

Where did the houses arrive from?

There will be another office in Brussels, Belgium which is also very important.  In The USA is we are going to have to open in some more places. Arizona is one of these.  We will first work with the consulate.

What are these new houses for, Senami abroad?

They are spaces to strengthen our four main programs.  One is the large program of international migration policy, that says ‘we are all immigrants’, from where the campaign of dignity and value to immigration appears and the imposition of the correct immigrant rights policy.  The other program is the ‘Welcome Home plan’, where Ecuador invites immigrants to once again feel Ecuadorian, which is another form of returning.  They also offer the return to Ecuador, with the right support, if that is what they have decided to do.  We don’t want to convince anyone to return, but we have to support them if they decide to do so.

A third program is the ‘Network of Care Homes’ which is the network of houses outside and inside to give integral care to our transnational family.  And finally, there is the strong program of the ‘Migrant Bank’ financial services to promote the inclusion of migrant peoples in the economic and social system and also to offer technical support for enterprises, taking into account that the migrant is a subject of rights also and is a transnational actor in fundamental economic, social and cultural development and, at the same time, is a political subject.

With ‘Welcome Home’ are conditions created in Ecuador created so that people return?

People don’t return to employment disputes, they don’t return without anything. People who are returning through this program are generating employment in Ecuador.  We say that when a son returns, he returns with bread in his arms and I believe that the intervention of the state, from the perspective that we are making, the immigrant is generating more, he is the creator of development, he arrives with learning, including at times with his small capital, with new technologies.

Welcome home implies that one can work together without paying taxes, which can take your household goods. They are generating employment, bringing new technologies, and well, as the president has said: ‘we are fixing the house so that no one else will have to leave or be forced to return, but that only those who want to return do’.  This is a long process that doesn’t exist only with Senami or this government.  Society is a group and we will take a good stretch. There are over 50 years of migration in the country, nearly 3 million people have left, most of them, because of the economic situation.  We have no magic wand to change the country with, but we do have the big promise of the government to make a country inclusive and in this promise we are determined the migration.

(Translated by Joanna Blyth)

The Ecuadorian house in London

It is a pleasant space, located near Kings Cross station. There are two floors in which there are conference rooms, offices, a kitchen, an area for computers. It is a lovely place where you can still smell fresh paint; it was inaugurated on the 28th of September.

Jorge Moreno, coordinator of Senami in the United Kingdom.

The house is, like others which exist in other countries, a representation of Senami, which attempts to find the migrant Ecuadorian community a place to congregate, and where they can stay and be identified. As a physical space, the house brings the community together as a statutory body; as an official institution, it generates possibilities. As both, it strengthens the sense of national identity. The services are free and concrete: information about policies and public services, strengthening ties with Ecuador, psychosocial and legal care, and promotion of cultural and national heritage.

This is without mentioning the support and advice they provide to those wishing to return to their country, and giving advice on education, health, psychological matters, legal affairs, education and training. The doors are open; work is under construction and in action.

Contact: 1st Floor, 144-146 Kings Cross Road, WC1X 9DU, London. Tel: 02072780809 / 02078370985. www.migranteecuatoriano.gob.ec

(Translated by Olivia Barnett)

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