Comments, In Focus

In conversation with Minister for Senami, Francisco Hagó

Last November, after giving up his seat as Member of Parliament for the USA and Canada, he became the Minister of the General Secretariat for Migrants, a fundamental institution in the life of Ecuadorians.



Ecuador recognizes the human right to freedom of movement: to go from one country to another, to stay in one, to work, to travel … to be mobile. This is only logical, because Ecuador is a country of migrants, it is estimated that 15 – 20% of the population lives outside the country.

Since Rafael Correa took over the presidency of the Republic, he decided to commit himself to creating a policy for immigrants: a long-term policy. He did this because he understood the situation, having once been a migrant himself.

And for the first time in the history of democracy a State Secretariat was created to attend to the needs of migrants. These needs are met in various parts of the world thanks to the Casas Ecuatorianas that have been set up in a number of countries. At the head of them, at the head of this government network of assistance and friendship is Francisco Hagó.

Hagó left Ecuador at the age of 20 due to the lack of opportunities for work or study, and set off for the United States, where at first – and without speaking the language – he did unqualified work as a labourer, often hired by the day.

Minister Francisco Hagó
Minister Francisco Hagó

After a number of years and having learned English, he began to build his future. Thanks to his scholarships for academic excellence he was able to obtain university qualifications and also to study in France. When he finished his studies he continued to live in the USA, working as an assistant lecturer, later a university professor and then working in management. Later he joined the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, and following that became an Ecuadorian MP, until he received the phone call from President Correa.

Hagó talks to The Prisma from the Casa Ecuatoriana in London.

These kind of institutions often start with objectives or slogans that sound very nice, but in practice never happen. Are the Casas Ecuatorianas reaching their goals?

Definitely. Their impact is unquestionable. People come here to ask for help with their problems, which are of many different kinds. We are attending to the needs of a whole country, and a country has innumerable needs. If you are asking me whether we can satisfy everyone’s needs, then, no, because that is impossible. This is a task which is developing with time. We are responding to the changes as they happen, and developing policies and programmes accordingly.

If the problems that arise for Ecuadorians are changing and have not been raised in advance, does the institution adapt to their new requirements?

Totally. In fact one of the reasons for my journey is to be able to find out about something that we have noticed since the Casas began, but especially in recent months: a retreat of the flow of migrants.

Does that mean the destinations of migrants are changing?

Yes. There is a change among our migrants in Europe. There are Ecuadorians who decided to settle in Spain, and due to the extreme economic crisis they are coming to London. So a new problem has arisen: although they are European citizens, they don’t understand English.

Are they being helped by the Ecuadorian Government to solve this kind of problem?

Not only that, but this is the first time an Ecuadorian Government has recognized that the State itself has duties towards their citizens living abroad. Here in the Casa in London, we offer classes on various subjects (all free of charge) including English. Besides that we are involved in discussions with trade unions, and in other European countries we already have agreements allowing us to give legal advice.

The problem of language is probably one of the reasons for the fact that many Latin-Americans work as cleaners or other jobs that don’t match their level of education…

Not only in cleaning but in the service sector: we have psychologists, teachers, trainers… who are employed to look after children. And there are doctors and nurses working as nursing assistants or in old peoples’ homes. The net result is that we have trained people professionally only so that they can supply services in Europe. We are concerned about this imbalance and want them to be able to enter the labour market more effectively, and get better positions.

However, there are other problems such as the restrictive laws against immigrants in many countries. The UK is applying these laws very harshly…

We respect the sovereignty of other countries, but we are also determined that human rights are respected. We criticize the way countries like Spain do not respect human rights, and because of administrative failings – which is how it typically happens if someone is found without the correct documentation, something which only carries a fine – they are arresting and depriving citizens of their liberty. These are issues that concern us and we will protest against them.

Even so, in Spain they don’t deport anyone in the space of only a week if they are found with their visa expired. . .

Here in the UK, if you don’t have a visa they deport you. That’s correct. But this is something that is done according to the law and I have to respect it. But we will always offer support to our immigrants to make sure their human rights are respected, and that the law is implemented according to the proper procedures.

What have the Casas achieved so far?

The Casa arose as a refuge, and a kaleidoscope enabling all kinds festivals and events that are part of Ecuadorian culture to continue around the world. I have been very happy to see how young Ecuadorians, born here in Europe have joined us. So the balance is very positive.

What happens to those who come here as a last resort before being deported?

As I said, there are times when we can’t legally do anything, and there are several thousand people who have returned after attending one of our Casas. Every time an Ecuadorian is deported the first thing that greets them in Ecuador is neither loneliness nor abandonment. As soon as they leave the plane they are received by the National Secretariat for Migrants, we give them our shelter and friendship, and take each one of them to their homes.

Is there more demand for this service now?

There have been changes. Now there are the English classes, and repatriation costs are paid by the state if the family has no money. We also have programmes for returnees in Ecuador, so that they can bring their furniture with them and a new or used car if it is less than 3 years old and not worth more than 20,000 dollars.

These are incentives to make their return easier…

Without any doubt. They can bring all their work tools with them. We pay the customs duties. If they bring in equipment valued at 200,000 dollars they would normally pay 100,000 in duty, and the Government exempts them from that. Besides that there is also a programme of loans so that the returnee can borrow up to 25 – 50% of the costs of any business that they want to start.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: ondastropicais@yahoo.co.uk)

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