Increase in Haitian immigration raises concerns in Chilean society

SANTIAGO – Over 105,000 Haitians entered Chile during 2017, an increase of nearly 138% compaed with 2016. Such influx is raising societal and governmental concerns regarding border patrol improvements, job availability and many forms of discrimination including exploitation and racism. The debate has shifted to social media platforms, where many now express their views.

The means by which many Haitians arrive in Chile is also under intense scrutiny. Dynamic Airways, a U.S.-based airline, is facing questions about reports of flights from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, arriving at night in unmarked planes carrying up to 300 passengers, primarily from Haiti. According to a report by Chilean outlet Emol, passengers arrive carrying “yellow envelopes” and are escorted onto special busses parked on the tarmac.

The number of Haitian citizens that made it to Chile last year represented 1% of the total population of that Caribbean country. Although some are qualified professionals, degrees from Haitian universities aren’t recognized in Chile.

Prior to arrival, many Haitian migrants are promised better living and working conditions, and a great majority come to Chile in search of a job, as Haiti’s 2017 unemployment rate stood at 13.4 percentHowever, upon arrival many face poor living conditions and exploitative work in agriculture, construction or food processing companies, for example.

Unemployment rate under Haitians (source: Statista.com)

A new visa for Haitians was introduced in mid-April to try and control the amount immigrants that intend on staying permanently. The first effects were quick to be noticed. While in April last year a total of 6.300 travelers were coming from Haiti, this year in the same month, under new regulations, only 2.388 made the trip, a decrease of 62 percent.

Many Haitians also face a language barrier, which can make it difficult to find employment. Various initiatives provide language courses designed specifically for immigrants. Chilean authorities have also recognized the need to learn Haitian Creole, particularly for government employees working in facilities that deal with foreign visitors.

One of the first income opportunities newly-arrived Haitians without work visas or proper documents explore is selling a popular Chilean chocolate bar called “Super 8” in the streets, virtually all of them illegally. It has become such a common sight in the streets of Chile’s main cities that Haitian band New Vision C made a song about the candy bar.

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