Intercultural communication issues faced by the Colombians refugees in Ecuador
Cultural dimensions’ theory
Who is a refugee?
Discrimination against Colombians in Ecuador
Persecution suffered by Colombian refugees in Ecuador
The impact of food insecurity among the Colombian refugees in Ecuador
Colombia and Ecuador are two brotherly countries of South America, which share the same colours on their flags, like shields and the same political liberator Simon Bolivar, and the two countries face a very complex problem: Intercultural communication issues created by the refugee crisis (White, 2011). The problem of violence that Colombia has faced for over fifty years by illegal armed groups and the national army forces, has led to thousands of deaths, most of whom were not participants of the conflict plaguing this undeveloped South American country (López, et al., 2013).
Because of the conflict, a large number of Colombians displaced by violence in Colombia, do not feel safe in their own country, some fleeing from one place to another within the same country, but still not feeling safe (Riaño-Alcalá, 2008). This problematic situation has caused thousands of Colombians to leave their country to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador. The latter receives the largest number of Colombians, mainly from the centre and the south of the country (Gottwald, 2004; Korovkin, 2008; White, 2011). Such is the number of Colombians crossing the Ecuadorian border, that this creates another problem for them and for the Ecuadorians who receive them, because, Ecuador is a small country with own social problems without the capacity to meet the basic needs of its own countrymen (Carillo, Karen, & Schvaneveldt, 2012), much less the basic needs of foreigners who come as refugees or asylum seekers(Shedlin, et al., 2016). Therefore, this situation has created intercultural communication issues between Colombians and Ecuadorians (White, 2011).
Another problem rather than exacerbates social and cultural relations between Ecuadorians and Colombians is that the latter have a bad reputation in Ecuador. Colombians in Ecuador are stigmatized as guerrilla members, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, murderers, gangsters, thieves and very dangerous people (Shedlin, et al., 2016). This negative stigma has contributed to Intercultural communication issues between both cultures (¿Por qué nos odian en Ecuador?, 2009). But, what specifically are the intercultural communication issues faced by Colombian refugees in Ecuador? This research essay will describe the intercultural communication issues faced by the Colombian refugees in Ecuador. Firstly, the essay will explain how the cultural dimensions’ theory from Hofstede (2011) explains why intercultural communication issues between Ecuadorians and Colombians should not occur. Secondly, the text describes who is a refugee is and why they need international protection. Thirdly, the essay shows how discrimination against Colombians negatively affects intercultural communication between both cultures. Fourthly, the kind of persecution suffered by Colombian refugees in Ecuador. Fifthly, this essay describes how food insecurity in Ecuador contributes to worsening the intercultural issues above described. Finally, this essay will conclude with a summary of the topic and a recommendation for future research on the topic.
Cultural dimensions’ theory
Culture is all of palpable or impalpable, which recognize a special group of people and emerge from their experiences in certain fact. In other words, culture is how humans develop our lives and make the world or the part where we live; thus, culture is the intellectual or artistic development (Samovar, Porter, & Mcdaniel, 2012). It is civilization itself. (Samovar, Porter, & Mcdaniel, 2012).
The intercultural communication issues between Ecuadorians and Colombians should not occur, because both are brother countries that have a similar culture and the same language. In fact, according to Hofstede (2011) and his cultural dimensions’ theory, there are six dimensions to recognize each group's cultural patterns. These dimensions are Individualism vs collectivism, power distance, long-term orientation vs short-term orientation, uncertainty avoidance, Indulgence vs restraint and masculinity vs femininity. This is a helpful model in intercultural communication, also these six dimensions are convenient to study and understand worldwide cultures. Thus, we may have a better understanding of cultural traits prevailing in other countries in the world. Hofstede (2011) provides specific data of every culture in six dimensions’ scores that make us have a clear idea of each culture. Also, this theory shows the variances that can occur with our culture. Therefore, in this way would be possible to understand other cultures, as well as knowing our cultural traits which others could find attractive.
The reason why these two cultures should understand each other is that, both cultures are collectivist and not individualist. For example, in collectivist cultures such as Colombian and Ecuadorians, people belong to clans, groups, organisations and families who take care of them and to which they owe loyalty(Hofstede, 2011). Further, they show allegiance and identify themselves with the collective group and then as invidious. Contrary to this, in individualistic cultures such as Australia, Canada and the United States, people look after themselves. In individualist cultures, people first identified themselves as individuals(Hofstede, 2011). Even, the aim of education is exactly to help individuals to find himself and stand on its own feet, without being dependent on the community they belong to. We could say, then that, intercultural communication issues between Ecuadorians and Colombians should not occur. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For instance, refugees in Ecuador are discriminated and persecuted by Ecuadorians as this text will describe below. But, first, let us describe who is a refugee.
Who is a refugee?
There exists international law to recognise a person as a refugee. With the aim of protecting European refugees, the UN created this law in 1951 during the Geneva Convention. However, in 1967 this law was updated to include refugees around the world. So, according to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol:
A refugee as a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. (Guterres, 2001, p. 3)
Refugees have left their countries to protect their lives. Thus, this international law promotes the protection of their human rights and prohibits the deportation of these people to their home countries where their lives may be at risk. For this reason, more than 600,000 Colombians have crossed the Ecuadorian border to find refuge in Ecuador (Korovkin, 2008). However, those Colombians seeking international protection in this country have found some protection, but at the same time, they have to face intercultural issues and one of these issues is discrimination (Shedlin, et al., 2016).
Discrimination against Colombians in Ecuador
Discrimination against Colombians in Ecuador negatively affects the intercultural communication between both cultures (¿Por qué nos odian en Ecuador?, 2009). Discrimination is the act of giving a hostile, humiliating and depreciable treatment to a person or a group of people(Orbe & Camara, 2010). There are thousands of people who are victims of discrimination every day because of their physical appearance, personality and their lifestyle, such as ethnic or national origin, economic status, disability, age, sex, health status, pregnancy, sexual preference, religion, opinions, language, marital status and other discrepancies may be causes of discrimination, persecution or restriction of human rights (Nimon, 2011; Simms, 2008; Orbe & Camara, 2010).
In research led by ACNUR (UNHCR) on urban refugees in Ecuador, 52% of Colombian refugees surveyed said they felt discriminated against by the Ecuadorians, particularly in relation to the adverse perceptions of refugee status, socio-economic situation, nationality, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity (White, 2011). Additionally, the survey showed that public places are the spaces where most of the Colombian refugees face discrimination, followed by workplaces and public establishments(White, 2011).
The majority of Colombian refugees in Ecuador say that when seeking housing or employment they often hear Ecuadorians tell them: "we do not hire Colombians" or "we do not rent to Colombians." In fact, there are job ads that state: "we need employees to hire, but not Colombians" (White, 2011). These issues decrease the sort of work placements available for Colombian refugees. Furthermore, this situation permits the abuse by employers and it may become a grave obstacle to integration. Discrimination against refugees also affects access to housing and makes it very difficult for them to find a place to live(White, 2011).
Similarly, discrimination has deep consequences on the self-esteem of Colombian refugees in Ecuador. For example, refugees describe being verbally discriminated on the streets and in some cases violently attacked. For this reason, many refugees feel useless, despicable and miserable(White, 2011). For Ecuadorians, every Colombian woman is a prostitute and every Colombian man is a drug trafficker or a guerilla member(White, 2011). This type of stereotyping and xenophobia from Ecuadorians toward Colombians has created an intercultural communication barrier between both cultures. Furthermore, Colombians constantly confront harassments and arrests by police forces (White, 2011; Orbe & Camara, 2010).