New report deplores Chile’s poor handling of migrants

SANTIAGO – A new report by Movimiento Acción Migrante and Observatorio Ciudadano documents the difficulties that COVID-19 laws and protocols present for immigrants to Chile. It also highlights the specific challenges faced by Venezuelan migrants and further reveals the Piñera administration’s failure to comply with international recommendations. It recommends adopting a human rights-based approach to immigration in the new Constitution.

Movimiento Acción Migrante (MAM) and Observatorio Ciudadano (OC), two Chilean non-governmental organizations that exist to protect the rights of vulnerable communities in Chile, recently issued a report on the government’s treatment of migrants. The report was drafted at the demand of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council and Special Rapporteur Felipe González Morales, whose current mandate is to examine ways to eliminate obstacles that frustrate migrants’ fundamental human rights.

Chile’s Law No 21.325 is in the report’s crosshairs. It authorizes the immediate expulsion of certain migrants who cross the border irregularly, also known as “devoluciones en caliente.” Such expulsions have caused problems at the Bolivian border in recent months, as Bolivia declared that it would only accept the return of migrants of Bolivian nationality. As a result, migrants of other origin have ended up stuck at the border in legal limbo and been forced to spend long periods of time without shelter and provisions as their fate is decided.

Venezuelan migrants particularly at risk

Venezuelan migrants entering Chile’s northern border have an especially difficult path, as their journey into Chile through non-authorized routes prevents them from obtaining visas and documentation that could enable them to find work, access healthcare, and begin their integration into Chilean society. The authors of the report emphasize the fact that this situation only further exacerbates the vulnerability of these individuals, who are continuously at risk of being expelled or seeing their rights violated. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the government has also decided to suspend the processing of family reunification consular visas, thus keeping many migrant families separated for indefinite periods of time.

Many of Chile’s land borders with Bolivia have also occasionally been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, with the current measures remaining in force until March 31, 2022. This situation has caused many migrants to take non-authorized and often perilous routes into the country. The measure also arguably violates the State’s obligations of international protection and respect for the principle of non-refoulement as it does not include any exceptions in the case of entry for humanitarian reasons.

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International organizations are concerned

In April 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern that the pandemic was being used as a justification for the continuing militarization of borders in Central and South America, and, according to the present report, Chilean authorities do not seem to have done much to address these concerns.

According to MAM and OC, another problem is that Chile’s mainly security- and control- based approach is contributing to a wave of xenophobic actions and speech – online and within Chilean communities near the Bolivian border. A number of hate-based aggressions against migrants have been reported in the northern city of Iquique and it is feared that there are more to come.

The report also places a particular emphasis on the situation of unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, and the elderly, who are especially vulnerable and require extra protection in situations of forced displacement as they may require additional medical care or assistance in obtaining paperwork. It also exposes the fact that most of the aid supplied to these displaced and vulnerable people was entirely organized and supplied by civil society thus far, without any help from government authorities.

The need for a human rights-based approach

The report argues for an approach based on human rights rather than national security, i.e., one that is consistent with the prescriptions of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The report’s authors are hopeful that a new Constitution will include legally-binding ways to ensure that migrants’ rights are not violated in the future.


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