Hi! My name is Elizabeth Willis, and I am a Policy Advocacy and Leadership Associate Volunteer at Asylum Access Ecuador (AAE) in Quito. I have been here since September, and I am so thankful to the InterExhange Foundation for making my time here possible.
AAE gives free legal assistance to asylum-seekers so that they are able to better navigate the refugee status determination process. We also have programs in Community Outreach, Strategic Litigation and Policy Advocacy, with the goal of improving refugees’ and asylum-seekers’ access to rights and international protection. A majority of those seeking asylum in Ecuador are Colombian and fleeing from the armed conflict that continues to displace thousands from their homes each year.
My past few months at AAE have been busy; we were researching, writing and editing for the Iniciativa Cartagena +30 document, which is a regional document on the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless and displaced persons in the Americas to be presented during United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees‘ (UNHCR) commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration. Twenty-four organizations from 14 countries participated in the creation of the document through interviews, country information and/or focus groups with refugees and asylum-seekers. The end result is an overview of the challenges, potential solutions and best practices found aross the region.
Why is this so important? First of all, if you haven’t taken a look at the Cartagena Declaration, check it out here. It emphasizes the importance of individual state adoption of international conventions on refugees as well as adoption of national legislation that facilitates the implementation of those conventions. It also reiterates the importance of non-refoulement, the principle that prohibits the return of a refugee to his or her persecutor, and advocates for the right to work for refugees. Most notoriously, the Cartagena Declaration argues for the expansion of the definition of refugees to include those fleeing from generalized violence, internal conflicts, foreign aggression or mass violations of human rights. Those points, among others made in the Declaration, are evidence of the commitment that Latin America has made to refugee rights. The UNHCR has organized Cartagena +30, a series of conferences across the region, in order to evaluate how far the region has come since the Cartagena Declaration and how far it needs to go.
The Iniciativa Cartagena +30 document aims to bring a civil society voice to those discussions, which is important because civil society organizations have direct contact with refugees, stateless and displaced persons and asylum-seekers, granting them insight into the barriers to access to both the legal determination process and the exercise of rights to education, housing, health and work, among others.
The goal is to continue the trajectory of respect for refugee and asylum-seeker rights in Latin America and improve the situation of those seeking international protection in the region through durable solutions to the identified challenges.
As for me personally, I have truly enjoyed working on the document and feel even more committed to pursuing a future career in refugee and migration rights.
Thanks for reading!