Chaos on border with Bolivia after Chile’s new immigration law takes effect

By Sebastian Silva

Colchane, Chile, Feb 13 (EFE).- A day after the Chilean government announced a pending “state of exception” in several communities on its northern border and the entry into force of the new immigration law, confusion and discontent are increasing among foreigners at the border crossing points with Bolivia.

In Colchane on the Bolivian border, in Tamarugal province, dozens of migrants jammed the border crossing point without any certainty that they would be allowed to enter Chile and fearing that they might be sent back to Bolivia, EFE learned.

On Saturday, the Chilean government announced the entry into force of the new immigration law promoted by conservative President Sebastian Piñera to tighten crossing restrictions on Chile’s borders.

In addition, the president declared a “state of exception” – a move that allows the deployment of the armed forces – in four provinces: Tamarugal, El Loa, Arica and Parinacota, on Chile’s northern border with Bolivia and Peru.

The measures were implemented after two days of strikes and work stoppages by truckers who were demanding more security on the roadways and a halt to migration over clandestine routes after the death on Thursday of one of their number in an alleged confrontation with a group of foreigners.

Despite the fact that the new immigration law technically entered into force in 2021, it had not actually been officially approved until it was published on Saturday in the official gazette, thus facilitating expulsions and even “hot returns” of migrants back across the border without subjecting them to judicial proceedings.

Dozens of migrants told EFE that Chilean police subjected them on Sunday to a process of self-exposure in which, if they were found to have criminal records, they would be returned to Bolivia.

However, during the morning, the Colchane border facility completely closed its doors, thus sparking a demonstration by families and travelers who had spent the night outdoors despite having had PCR tests to detect any of them infected with the coronavirus.

“There’s no reason for us to pay for the crimes of other people. There are criminals everywhere, regardless of their nationality. We came here to get our families ahead,” Andrea Duran, a young Venezuelan, told EFE as she protested the Chilean actions along with her son.

Chile expelled a total of 39 adults and an unknown number of children back into Bolivia although authorities in that country did not clarify whether or not they would be accepted there.

Chaos also erupted in the temporary camp set up by the government to provide shelter for the migrants in Colchane, after the transport workers’ strikes prevented the foreigners from being transported to more long-term accommodations.

For months, in the four provinces affected by the state of exception and other parts of northern Chile, an immigration crisis has been brewing with the massive arrival of undocumented migrants and the staging of strikes against immigration, truckers’ work stoppages and xenophobic attacks.

The border crossing points in Chile’s northern altiplano region continue to be the main entry zones for illegal migration to Chile, which – despite the coronavirus pandemic and the 2019 social crisis – remains one of the most attractive countries in Latin America for migrants due to its relative political and economic stability.

In all, there are 1.4 million migrants in Chile, equivalent to 7 percent of the country’s population, with Venezuelans being the most numerous followed by Peruvians, Haitians and Colombians.

After two days of truckers’ strikes, traffic returned to normal in most of the region except in Tarapaca, where demonstrations and the partial blockade of a regional airport remained in effect, halting most flights in and out.

Simultaneously, in a statement, the governors of Arica, Tarapaca and Antofagasta, the three northernmost Chilean regions, called on the Chilean government to increase the police presence and the resources and infrastructure devoted to fighting crime.

“We’re demanding that the government resolve this conflict in a serious and responsible way, urgently implementing the announced measures,” they said.

The state of exception remains pending until specifically ordered by the president, a move that Piñera could make this week.


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