Lina Mena, a specialist in psychological care, has been working with Jesuit Refugee Service since 2013. Her work is based in Tulcán, a city on the northern border of Ecuador, which sees the largest number of Venezuelans entering Ecuador through Colombia. Recently, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and unrest in Colombia has led to an increase in the number of Colombian and Venezuelan refugees entering the city. She explained that for many years now, JRS has offered “psychosocial accompaniment, legal assistance, humanitarian help, and institutional support to strengthen other grassroots organizations” within Tulcán and the surrounding communities that receive refugees.
In Lina’s opinion, everyone in Tulcán shares a feeling of familiarity and has close relationships with immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela. Many people in Tulcán have family members that are from Colombia and have been integrated into the society. The feeling of solidarity from the people of Tulcán has helped the recent refugee population slowly become a part of their community. That said, instances of xenophobia do occur but less often in Tulcán than other cities in Ecuador. JRS works to create community development plans among refugees and host community members, where their needs are collectively identified and prioritized so they may work together in enhancing local services, social cohesion, and sustainable integration.
Lina hopes that JRS will continue to provide assistance on the border and care for the emergency needs of communities there. She says Lina hopes that JRS will continue to provide assistance on the border and care for the emergency needs of communities there. She says it is important that JRS both responds to the situations of the refugees and continues “strengthening the social fabric, working with the communities, and aiding refugees to integrate into their new communities.”
She hopes the communities that take in refugees can work to give a more hospitable welcome to those who have been displaced. Lina hopes that countries in the region will move towards a state where “the people that arrive in cities and at the border can begin their lives here and are given not only the materials, but also the personal, social, and community tools in order to better their quality of life.”