Ecuador’s National Police and immigration officials detained 149 Cubans last Wednesday. The Cubans had been sleeping in tents in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to protest their inability to obtain a special humanitarian visa from Mexico that would allow them to travel to the US border, and from there seek asylum in the United States. The police were attempting to disperse the protest.

Detained Cubans in a cell at Quito's court offices building, waiting to be deported or released after deportation hearings, July 9, 2016.

© 2016 Juan Pablo Alban

The Ecuadorian government said that as of July 11, a total of 75 Cubans had been sent back to Cuba and 22 had been released and authorized to remain in Ecuador.

The government claimed the detainees’ rights were respected. The Cubans, however, were held for hours in a Quito court office charged with evaluating whether detainees were committing a crime when they were detained, according to human rights lawyers who sought to provide legal assistance to them. The Cubans were unable to talk to their families or lawyers and did not receive any food or water, the lawyers said.

Starting the day after their arrest, July 7, judges conducted a series of deportation hearings in which detainees reportedly only had a few minutes to present their defense. Lawyers reported that they were able to talk to the detainees just minutes before the hearings, and that amongst the detainees there were Cubans who had previously requested asylum, others who requested asylum during the hearing, and some who had legal permits to stay in Ecuador.

The judges ruled to deport dozens of Cubans, including asylum seekers. The judicial deportation decisions were sent to Interior Minister José Serrano for his approval. A habeas corpus request filed by human rights lawyers for all detainees remained pending when the deportation decisions were adopted.

Ecuadorean human rights defenders documenting the deportations told Human Rights Watch that some of those deported had requested asylum, and the deportations happened before they had an opportunity to appeal the deportation decision.

Under international law, the Ecuadorean government has the fundamental obligation to respect the principle of nonrefoulement –  no forcible return of a refugee to a place where his or her life or freedom would be threatened. It also should uphold its due process obligations and allow asylum seekers to have a fair consideration of their claims for protection. Any measure that runs counter these obligations violates fundamental rights and should be strongly condemned by regional governments, the United Nations office in Quito, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.