Chile’s president-elect to inherit deepening humanitarian crisis

By Sebastian Silva

Colchane, Chile, February 23 (EFE).- When Gabriel Boric won the Chilean presidential election in December, he was well aware that he will be inheriting some tough challenges from the outgoing administration of Sebastian Pinera, including illegal migration in the north.

The figures of the daily flood of migrants entering Chile from a highland pass in Bolivia are close to other dramatic exoduses from, for example, Syria and the western Mediterranean.

Colchane, the epicenter of the migration crisis located at almost 3,700 meters above sea level, has hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelans, haggling their way through the few security checks there while exhausted and cold.

“I left Venezuela four months ago. I went through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and now here we are, trying to survive, (…) We want to get to Santiago, I am a baker, the boy who is with me is an electrician, the other is a welder, many of us really want to work,” Luis Montillo, 25, tells Efe from an emergency camp set up in Colchane.

This camp, with a capacity to house 185 people, has been one of Chile’s few responses to the migration surge.

A clearly insufficient response, denounce various NGOs, since the current average entry rates range between 200 and 400 migrants.

Colchane, with almost 1,600 inhabitants, has no supermarkets, banks or sewage system. The phone signal is almost non-existent, the capacity of the primary healthcare service is just 10 cases per day and the nearest hospital is 250 kilometers (155 miles) away.

In February 2021, some 1,500 migrants arrived in Chile and overwhelmed the small town’s infrastructure, the first sign of a major humanitarian crisis that remains in place until this day.

Having only a couple of backpacks, t-shirts and shoes, migrants making it to Colchane find themselves forced to endure the hostile weather, with strong gusts of wind during the day and temperatures below zero degrees Celsius at night.

Several young people, women and children are forced to spend the night at bus stops while waiting for a spot in the migrant camp.

During an event in Colombia’s Cúcuta on the Venezuelan border three years ago, president Pinera criticized the regime of president Nicholas Maduro and said that Chile would continue to receive Venezuelans, remarks that could encourage a “call effect,” experts said.

Unauthorized migration is not new in Chile but figures have gone from 415 to more than 23,000 people from 2010 to July 2021, according to the Jesuit Migrant Service (SJM).

Migrants usually face insecurity and xenophobia, as inhabitants of the region blame them for the increase in crime and protests, to which the outgoing government has responded with militarizing the border and a new Migration Law coming into effect in February. EFE


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