In one of the most inhuman scenes seen in recent times in Chile, an anti-immigrant march in the north of the country ended with a large bonfire with the few belongings of a group of homeless Venezuelans in the city of Iquique, a about 1750 kilometers from the capital. Tents, mattresses, clothing, children’s toys such as bicycles, diapers, baby carriages and documents burned in a large pyre after a demonstration attended by about 5,000 people on Saturday. Inhabitants of Iquique, a coastal city west of the Atacama desert, protested the uncontrolled migratory crisis facing the north of Chile with the massive entry of immigrants through unauthorized crossings and that lead dozens of foreign families to pitch their tents in the Public spaces. The United Nations, after the burning, described the events as “an inadmissible humiliation,” according to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González.
The atmosphere was hot in Iquique this weekend. On the orders of the city’s administrative authority, the police on Friday evicted dozens of immigrant families who had pitched their tents in Plaza Brasil and who were living in unsanitary and precarious conditions. Many fathers and mothers resided in the group with their minor children. It was an eviction with incidents and marked by confrontations between the police and immigrants, which ended with 14 detainees (10 for disorders, two for mistreatment of the police, one for an attack with a sharp weapon against a neighbor in the sector and one for throwing incendiary element) and five wounded policemen.
“The eviction is something that had been warned and is being carried out,” explained Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado. “It is not allowed to use public spaces for leisure, recreation, to install temporary housing,” said the main political person in charge of order and security of the Government, which has announced the reactivation of the expulsions.
The march of the following hours was organized by social networks by the inhabitants of Iquique and brought together about five thousand people, without permission from the authorities. They were protesting the uncontrolled presence of foreigners and the lack of control that, they say, exists on the border. Many of the mobilized citizens carried Chilean flags and flags of the indigenous peoples of Latin America, as can be seen in videos and photographs. The march started in Plaza Brasil and then went to the building of the presidential delegation – the government representative in the city – where those present shouted anti-immigrant slogans and sang the national song. On the beach, a group insulted a Venezuelan family, who had to be guarded by Carabineros. Later, some of the protesters went to a well-known public space where immigrants live, who were previously alerted by the police and managed to protect themselves. It was at this corner, on Avenida Aeropuerto and Las Rosas, where a group of Chileans built the bonfire and began to throw the belongings of about 10 families.
“What they did to us is not done to a human being”Said through tears a Venezuelan who had everything set on fire. “They burned all our belongings, everything. The papers, everything. They took one of my puppies. About 30 Venezuelans lived in this place. We couldn’t get anything out, ”said the woman, who said that there were also about seven babies living there.
In the north of Chile, the largest land entry gate to the country from South America, the humanitarian and health crisis has been expressed with greater force due to the entry of immigrants through non-authorized crossings. Through the Colchane pass, on the border with Bolivia, 370 people passed irregularly in June, while in September the figure reached 1,826, according to government estimates.
According to the reports of the Jesuit Migrant Service (SJM), “the migratory flows that had been increasing until 2017, began to decrease in 2018.” The fall intensified with the closure of borders due to covid-19 in 2020. “But although there was a drop in the income of foreigners to Chile, the way of migrating to a more precarious and vulnerable was modified: thus, only between January 2018 and January 2021 there are more than 35,400 entries per unauthorized passage, concentrating 79% of these records since 2010 ″. According to the organization’s yearbook, “it is also Venezuelans and Haitians who increased irregular income the most, the first by 134.622% in three years (January 2018-January 2021).”
According to official data, 1,462,103 foreigners reside in Chile and the largest community is Venezuela, with 30.7% of the total. The government of Sebastián Piñera has been held responsible by some sectors for encouraging immigration from Venezuela for political reasons, for the creation in 2018 of a “democratic responsibility” visa. In January 2019, the conservative Chilean president traveled to Cúcuta, the border of Venezuela and Colombia, in an operation against Nicolás Maduro that ended up being a great fiasco on his international agenda, among other reasons because neither the Argentine Mauricio Macri nor the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro. In the Government, however, they explain that what Piñera has done aims to “order the house” for orderly immigration, because Chile had an old migration law, dating from 1975, under the Augusto Pinochet regime, which is not suitable for the migratory processes of the XXI century.
“(…) The migrant population was decreasing to historical lows in years of dictatorship, reaching 0.7% in 1982. It was in the dictatorial period that the idea of an unwanted immigrant was radicalized, generating suspicion from all foreigners”, points to the document of the International Organization for Migration, by the researchers Nicolás Rojas, Claudia Silva and Constanza Lobos. For the sociologist María Emilia Tijoux, “Chile produces fear” to immigrants, “because of a national and racist way of being” that has been revealed in different academic studies and public episodes of discrimination.
The events of this Saturday in Iquique have provoked a generalized repudiation, but in parallel a deep debate on the crisis. One of the mayors in the area, Ljubica Kurtovic, who leads the humble municipality of Tocopilla, assured that her city suffers from historical social neglect and that it does not have great sources of employment to generate income for local families. “As mayor and neighbor, I regret the humanitarian situation, but I also regret the deterioration our commune is suffering,” reflected Kurtovic.