For migrants and refugees, a sad start can have a happy ending – and it should

This page in:
Retos y oportunidades de la #MigraciónVenezolana en #Ecuador Retos y oportunidades de la #MigraciónVenezolana en #Ecuador

“… he packed all the basics that he needed, said goodbye to his wife and three children, and set off on foot, covering nearly 400 kilometers until he reached his first destination. Once there, his brother received him and helped him continue his journey ...”

The beginning of this story is similar for many migrants and refugees, regardless of where in the world they come from or when their journey took place. Since 2015, Latin America has experienced the most significant human mobility crisis in the region’s history. More than 5 million Venezuelans have left their homeland over the last five years, the majority of whom (80 %) have settled elsewhere in the region. Ecuador has emerged as an important humanitarian corridor for Venezuelan migrants and refugees . Of the 1.2 million or so who have traveled to the country, around one third have decided to cease their journey and settle. Of these, four out of ten have opted to make their home in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. 

Most of these Venezuelan settlers are young people who are well educated and healthy relative to the host population.  As a population, they have the potential to help boost Ecuador’s Gross Domestic Product by up to 2 %, according to the most recent World Bank report: Challenges and opportunities for Venezuelan migration in Ecuador.

That said, significant hurdles stand in the way of this positive scenario from being realized. In particular, the status of new arrivals needs to be regularized their educational qualifications need to be certified.

“… He worked to the point of exhaustion in arduous and unpaid jobs, all in the hope of obtaining the promise of a better future. After three months, he eventually arrived at his destination, only to be referred immediately to the hospital because of a hernia problem brought on by his travels. The compassion and care that he received at the hands of those who received him made the sorrow of his situation more bearable ..."

As with our migrant, more than half (57 %) of Venezuelans in Ecuador either work informally or on temporary contracts (71 %). Like him, they typically work five additional hours than their Ecuadorian peers and receive more than two-thirds (42 %) less pay for the same job.

Fortunately for migrants and refugees in Ecuador, access to public education and health services is free to all. As a percentage of the total population, this community comprises a tiny minority of those who use these services – less than 1 %, to be exact. The same is true for the social protection system. All the same, there is a widespread belief among Ecuadorians that Venezuelans are causing these services to collapse.  They also stand accused of harming Ecuador’s economy.

"... three years went by until he was able to save enough money to bring his family to be with him ..."

Most Venezuelan migrants and refugees (40 %) in Ecuador plan to bring over their families in the next two years. Since 2017, family reunification has been cited by Venezuelan arrivals as one of the main reasons for coming to Ecuador. This influx of Venezuelans is expected to continue in the near future.

Despite the happy ending of our migrant’s story, it is still important to recognize the challenges migrants like him face when in transit as well as after their arrival in their destination country . In the case of the latter, discrimination and xenophobia are two significant problems. For example, four out of ten Venezuelans report suffering discrimination due to their nationality and more than half have experienced prejudice at work.

These and other facts can be found in the report Challenges and opportunities of Venezuelan migration in Ecuador. This publication analyzes information gathered from household surveys, focus groups, and administrative records. Based on this analysis, it proposes a series of public policy recommendations designed to improve the integration of Venezuelans in their host communities in Ecuador. Through this integration, new and beneficial opportunities promise to emerge for both populations.

Giovanni Olivieri


This story may seem alien or unreal to many people, but do you know someone close to you who has been through this experience? I do. The above story is that of my grandfather Giovanni Olivieri, who emigrated from Italy to Argentina in 1922. Through grit and hard work, he was able to achieve a prosperous future for himself and his family. His story is almost a century old, but, when I consider the current experience of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, it could just as easily have been today. 

What's your story?



Challenges and opportunities of Venezuelan migration in Ecuador


Sergio Olivieri

Senior Economist, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000