SANTIAGO – The clock is ticking for around 600 Venezuelans who have been camping in front of their embassy for over three weeks in Santiago’s Providencia district. Tonight, Greater Santiago will be on lockdown while the migrants seek a solution for their desperate situation. Theirs isn’t an exceptional case: migrants in Chile seem to be forgotten victims of the crisis.
The situation of a large group of Venezuelan migrants seems exemplary for lots of other nationalities in Chile. They are invisible for authorities. Their countries lack the means or the interest to repatriate them, while Chilean authorities consider them obstacles occupying public space instead of humans suffering during a pandemic.
A group of Venezuelans has been camping outside their embassy in Providencia after suffering the economic impact of the pandemic. Most were laid off or lost their jobs in the informal sector due to pandemic-related restrictions. And the situation in their home country exacerbates their plight. Nicolás Maduro is still president, while Chile recognizes self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidó as legitimate leader. This means, Venezuela has two ambassadors in Chile, and both are ignoring the pleas of their fellow citizens.
While temperatures drop as winter arrives, authorities look away. Felipe Guevara, governor for the Metropolitan Region, rejected providing shelter because it was unclear when the group would leave the country. Only residents living near the embassy are concerned about the Venezuelans and provide some food and blankets. But given the health crisis, hunger and cold are not the only concerns. The migrants need to wear protective masks and keep a distance in line with the imposed health measures.
According to daily La Tercera, over 2,000 people are currently on the waiting list to return to Venezuela – and the list is growing. According to the Chilean Foreign Ministry, the Venezuelan government does not respond to requests to pick up the stranded citizens, who, like other groups, are also facing discrimination.
Migrants in Chile Face Surging Discrimination
Late April, the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) said in a statement “discrimination is another pandemic that we must stop.” According to the institute, Bolivians, Haitians and Chinese had been victims of discrimination related to the coronavirus outbreak.
In Villa Alemana, Valparaíso region, flyers appeared demanding Chinese immigrants leave the area. The flyers said the immigrants were to blame for thousands of deaths. The mayor filed a complaint with the police and said racism would never be tolerated.
No vamos a permitir discriminación ni amenazas a personas por su condición, raza, etnia, religión o enfermedad. Por eso, hemos presentado una querella criminal por amenazas, con la agravante de odio contra los autores de estos panfletos en Villa Alemana. pic.twitter.com/PLlzKsH95q
— Jorge Martínez Durán (@jmartinezvalpo) April 23, 2020
In Quilicura district, Haitian migrants who were rumored to be infected with the coronavirus, said locals threw stones at them and yelled they should leave the country. The situation of a group of Bolivians, who were to complete their quarantine in Antofagasta city but were denied access by the locals, is another example of surging discrimination during the pandemic.
In response, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said “any discriminatory act is absolutely repugnant.” But these words won’t do much to solve situations like the one the 600 Venezuelans are facing. A solution is needed before the city goes into lockdown. The clock is ticking.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.