Santiago, Jan 31 (EFE).- The northern Chilean city of Iquique was the scene of roadblocks, store closures and a truck drivers’ strike on Monday, with protesters demanding action to address rising crime and an illegal immigration crisis in that region.
Trucks and other heavy equipment were used to block multiple roads leading into and out of the city and prevent workers from reaching the airport, according to different local reports.
The airport suspended operations early Monday and urged passengers to contact their airline for updates on the status of their flights.
“Retail establishments and the duty-free zone decided not to open, while different social leaders decided to join in the protest. The call (for change) is quite big at this time,” Mayor Mauricio Soria said.
Monday’s actions come after hundreds of people demonstrated Sunday in different parts of the far-northern Tarapaca region – home to Iquique and more than 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) north of Santiago – against the presence of undocumented migrants.
During that gathering, some protesters broke up tent structures used by foreigners and held up xenophobic signs.
Similar incidents occurred in September, when a mob of demonstrators burned tents and the belongings of Venezuela migrants who had been using a public square in Iquique as a makeshift nighttime shelter.
Those actions were roundly condemned by authorities and non-governmental organizations.
The Chilean Altiplano (high plain) is the main route of choice for undocumented migrants, despite severe health risks related to that region’s big temperature swings and high elevation.
After a surge in illegal border crossings in February 2021, the crisis worsened further in October when hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic crisis in their homeland occupied public squares and avenues, an influx that led the Chilean government to announce the construction of several shelters to mitigate the crisis.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in December that nearly 500 Venezuelan refugees and migrants, including children, cross daily from Bolivia to Chile via irregular border crossings and arrive at their destination “after several days without eating and (suffering from) dehydration, hypothermia and altitude sickness.”
At least two people have died so far this year while trying to cross the border, while at least 23 have perished since migrants began arriving in large numbers in February 2021.
Around 1.4 million migrants live in Chile, equivalent to more than 7 percent of the population. Venezuelans make up the largest portion of the foreign-born population, followed by Peruvians, Haitians and Colombians. EFE