Project Title:

Spaces of tolerance: tracing the limits of deportability for Colombian undocumented migrants across Ecuador’s territory.


Puente San Miguel, Sucumbios, Ecuador. Official border crossing Ecuador-Colombia


Background information:

Academic research on deportation has been oriented in investigating the practices of Western states leaving out the experiences of so-called countries of the South. The importance and challenge in researching Ecuador’s deportation regime comes from the present void in the experience of migration management in developing countries and from being itself an innovative case, considering its latest experimentations in migration governmentality. A rather liberalized, progressive and human rights approach to migration was reflected in the development of the 2008 Constitution, proclaiming universal citizenship, rights to mobility, the progressive abolition of the status of illegal as means to break the unequal relations between North and South. An open border policy being the most tangible representation of such efforts.

The non-translation of these constitutional principles into a migration law, though, maintains a strong conflict between a juridical/normative frame oriented towards human rights to migration and a migration law oriented towards security and state sovereignty. This double orientation and consequent contradictions are particularly reflected in the work ethos, opinions and decision- making process of state bureaucracies working within migration and asylum and clearly evident in deportation, a practice that under constitutional principles would not have space to exist.

Such seemingly “welcoming” state positions and policies – mainly the open border policy and a broad acceptance of refugees – produced an unprecedented inflow of migrants and refugees particularly from neighboring Latin American countries with the effect of growing xenophobic feelings towards those historically considered ‘’brother countries’’. The intensification of the internal conflict in Colombia produced in the last 15 years an increase of Colombian refugees reaching Ecuador and of migrants attracted by the dollar economy. Border regions with Colombia, strong in bi-cultural and bi-national sentiments, historically perceiving the border as an imaginary line imposed on one same population, have fallen for the controversial state discourses over bogus asylum seekers and the social border between these groups becoming stronger. Yet, border regions also correspond to a space of free mobility and absence of migration control for Colombians.

Direccion de Refugio (Asylum Office), Lago Agrio, Ecuador.


Project Description:

The project looks at the Ecuadorian state migration management towards the Colombian population, the largest and most settled migrant group in Ecuador and on how practices of migration control towards this group change geographically within the state territory, creating a space of tolerance for the Colombian undocumented population coinciding with border regions. Exploring the margins shows how the state project is not necessarily a unified one. The project tries to understand the mechanism by which a spatialization of a deportation regime is developed within the nation state with the creation of an internal border within the country. This internal border defines the experiences of a Colombian undocumented migrant: its relation with the state, its trajectories and mobility, and the experience of deportability as they change between marginal areas (border regions) and the centre (the capital city Quito). It also looks at understanding how state bureaucracies deal with the Colombian population, on a more intimate level, and how differences appear between state workers in refuge and migration in border areas in comparison to those of the centre and how this may relate to their own experience of marginality.

Emphasis is given to the concept of deportability, as state’s production of a deportable population, potentially subjected to deportation (De Genova 2010), a threat set forward by the state implying social discipline and labor subordination. Considering deportation as the ultimate rupture of the relationship between state and citizenship and acting as a symbol and mechanism for exclusion, a tendency towards non deportation or the inability of the Ecuadorian state to deport (in border regions) informs on a different relationship between state and non-citizen which if not definite rupture, is of an exclusion based on permanent destitution (Paoletti 2010), privation from accessing rights and in a permanent marginalization and condition of illegality. The project then wants to question the dominant notion of “tolerance” of certain state’s attitudes towards irregular migrants which may be in fact systemic and reflect and reinforce migrants liminal situation, where sans-papiers are structurally integrated in the shadow economies but symbolically and socially excluded to the extent of becoming invisible (Wicker 2010).