Haitians Seek Help in Chile, Find Tough Immigration Reformists

  • Haitians protest the Dominican government
    Haitians protest the Dominican government’s immigration law reform earlier this year. | Photo: Reuters.
Many around the continent are attracted to Chile’s strong economy, but this is also causing housing issues in the Andean country.

Haitians trying to rebuild their lives after recent earthquakes by heading to Chile are being met with calls for tougher controls on migration.

Thousands of Haitians left their country after a 2010 earthquake, and headed mostly for Brazil and Argentina. But since political and economic turmoil have overtaken those countries as right-wing governments have pushed into power, Haitians are now leaving in throngs for Chile, where the minimum wage surpasses Brazil’s by about $100.

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“I can no longer pay for rent, water and electric bills and send some money back to my family in Haiti. Things are not as they were when I first arrived here,”  Haitian Jean Antonie Camille, 42, told Lha De S. Paulo local news about her reasons for leaving Brazil and going to Chile.

In October, Hurricane Matthew destroyed the country yet again, costing the poor nation about $2 billion in damages, roughly a fifth of its GDP, reported Americas Quarterly. According to Chilean National Police figures, almost 4,000 Haitians have been entering Chile monthly over the last year from various places in the continent.

But Conservative and reactionary voices in Chile are meeting this movement with calls for strict controls on the movement of thousands of Haitians.

“Chile must be open to receiving immigrants who contribute to development, but it must completely seal its borders to drug trafficking, crime, smuggling, organized crime and also to illegal immigration,” former President Sebastian Piñera, who’s seeking re-election next year, said, according to the Non-Aligned Movement News Network.

Chile saw a resurgence in the flow of immigrants after Augusto Pinochet’s fascist military dictatorship ended in 1990, and since 2010, has experienced a boom. In 2015, nearly 360,000 South American immigrants moved to Chile, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. And according to the latest reports, a total of 465,300 foreign-born people (out of a total population of 18 million) currently reside there.

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More than 41,000 are Haitians, with nearly half arriving only in the first half of this year, according to a report by the Investigative Police published earlier and cited by Haiti Libre. Most enter on a 90-day tourist visa, and most of those – nearly 89 percent – remain illegally, according to Haiti Libre, who cited the report. The country’s relative economic stability, job opportunities and already-established, though small, Haitian community is what most attracts them, according to NGO Solidarity America.

Even so, according to various reports this has also caused a housing crisis in Chile, with many Haitians and other migrants having to seek shelter in tents, slums or simply the street.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s government has agreed that new legislation is needed, suggesting current laws, which date back to Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, are outdated and do “not reflect the complexities of coexistence.”

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