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Disappointed Haitians, hopeful Venezuelans caught up at Chile border

02 October 2021   |   10:08 am
In a coastal desert on Chile's border with Peru, a night patrol runs into two different groups of migrants making their way across Latin America

Chilean border police use binoculars to spot undocumented migrants crossing from Peru. Photo/MARTIN BERNETTI AFP

In a coastal desert on Chile’s border with Peru, a night patrol runs into two different groups of migrants making their way across Latin America: Haitians returning to Chile after failing to enter the United States, and Venezuelans begging to be allowed in.

The frustration of the returning Haitians contrasts sharply with the hope of the Venezuelans seeking to board a bus to the Chilean capital Santiago, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the south. 

“We have our residency papers and our son is Chilean, I am returning to my job,” said Isaiah, a young Haitian. 

He and his wife, with a sleeping baby in her arms, have just emerged from a Chilean police truck at the Chacalluta border complex. They were intercepted as they entered Chile on foot through an unauthorized crossing near the beach.

Chilean border police have observed a change in the migratory flow of Haitians: in recent months they had encountered groups of up to 50 leaving the country, Major Patricio Aguayo, head of the 4th Chacalluta Police Station, told AFP. 

“But those attempts to withdraw were stopped and now we have seen Haitian citizens who are returning by plane to Santiago,” he said.

“We assume that this has to do with the fact that they are being sent back from the United States and that there are many blocked in Colombia,” added Captain Giovanni Tamburrino, referring to the US crackdown on Haitians trying to cross the southern border recently.

Fearful and disappointed, the Haitians spend hours at the airport or at the bus terminal in Arica, looking for tickets to different destinations in central or southern Chile. 

Venezuelans, on the other hand, arrive in Chile full of optimism.

Venezuelan Diathnys, a 38-year-old nurse, had just been caught by the border patrol with six compatriots, very close to where a Peruvian police vehicle had detained seven others.

“I always wanted to emigrate to Chile for a better quality of life,” she told AFP, shivering with cold.

– No visa, no work -Like many Venezuelans on the Chilean border, Diathnys spent three years in Peru. 

But after leftist Pedro Castillo won Peru’s presidential election, the price of “food has gone up, many things have gotten out of control and frankly, I do not want to live the same situation that I experienced in Venezuela,” she said, anxious to get to her sister’s house in Santiago. 

An airport official confirmed that six months ago, flights full of Haitians wanting to leave Chile began arriving in Arica, but “since last week they have been coming back.” 

Asked about their presence in Arica, a group of about 20 Haitians gave varying excuses. 

“We came to Arica on vacation,” said one. “I have family here,” offered another. All refused to speak on camera or tape.

Although crossing at Arica is simpler than heading across the Andes mountains, the Chilean border police have a base here and work closely with their counterparts on the Peruvian side.

“I am not leaving Chile, but it is very difficult,” said Gustave, a 36-year-old mechanic who for the past four years lived in Villa Alemana in the center of the country, where he earned almost $1,000 a month.  

“We had work and it was going well until they stopped renewing my visa. It’s impossible for people to legally employ you after that,” he said.

“It was good money, but now that they are not regularizing us, it makes us want to leave. The pandemic left us without jobs and papers,” said Gustave, standing in line to buy a ticket to central Chile.

The delay in regularizing foreign nationals in Chile has affected not only Haitians and Venezuelans but also foreign spouses of Chileans or European entrepreneurs with expired visas.

Following the devastation caused in Haiti by the 2010 earthquake, Chile welcomed 200,000 Haitians.

But in 2018, the current government of President Sebastian Pinera started only issuing tourist visas in Port-au-Prince, which stemmed the flow of Haitians.

Many tried to leave Chile in search of a better future in the US, and now are returning with little hope. 

“Working without papers is very bad, and it is a very expensive country,” says Bethany, 26, who claimed to have traveled to Arica to visit friends.