Social Issues

Residents of northern Chile blame gov’t for migrant crisis

Santiago, Dec 3 (EFE).- Communities in northern Chile continue to experience a migrant crisis due to failures of the national government, the mayor of the border town of Colchane told Efe.

“It remains a very concerning issue for us because of the massive, uncontrolled influx. In recent days another victim was added to the list of fatalities and regrettably, all of the actions announced by the government have simply not worked,” Javier Garcia said.

For decades, undocumented migrants have crossed into Chile’s arid, sparsely populated north from neighboring Bolivia and Peru.

But the flow has increased massively over the last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, a female migrant was found dead in Colchane near an unoccupied guard post on the Bolivian border, bringing the death toll for the year to 19.

The steps taken by the administration of President Sebastian Piñera, including the construction of migrant shelters, have been of “doubtful efficacy,” Garcia said.

“Regrettably it appears there is no state or governmental will in terms of controlling the indiscriminate entry of migrants,” the mayor said. We see a significant increase in military personnel and Carabineros (national police), but the actions are more directed to the humanitarian question than to providing security for residents.”

He also criticized the government for keeping the one legal port of entry in the area closed because of Covid-19.

Most of the hundreds of migrants who stream into Colchane every day are Venezuelans seeking a better life in Chile after fleeing a protracted economic crisis in their homeland.

One of those Venezuelans, a 21-year-old woman who preferred to remain anonymous, told Efe she hopes to reach Santiago and find a job that will allow her to save enough to buy a house back in Venezuela for herself and her daughter.

Efe asked another Venezuelan, a man who likewise declined to give his name, what he thought of a proposal by one of the candidates vying to succeed Piñera, right-winger Jose Antonio Kast, for digging a trench along the northern border to keep migrants out.

Kast, the Venezuelan said, “is not thinking of us as human beings.”

Hundreds of migrants can be seen camped on the streets of urban areas across northern Chile and in late September, an anti-immigration march in the port city of Iquique ended with the burning of tents and belongings of Venezuelans.

In April, Piñera promulgated a new immigration law requiring people who want to enter Chile to obtain visas ahead of time in their countries of origin.

The legislation also opened the door to large-scale deportations on chartered aircraft.

In a report released in July, Human Rights Watch pointed to a raft of abuses committed against Venezuelan migrants, such as separation of families, summary deportation on weekends when the courts are closed and preventing migrants from contacting lawyers.

Chile is currently home to 1.4 million migrants, equivalent to more than 7 percent of the population, according to official figures. Venezuelans constitute the largest contingent, followed by Peruvians, Haitians and Colombians. EFE ssb/dr

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