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“We feel humiliated, treated like animals”: Venezuelans affected by the protest in Chile

Bryan has been living on the street for a month in the city of Iquique, in the north of Chile.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan entered the country irregularly through the small town of Colchane, located a few kilometers from the border with Bolivia.

He came looking for work because, he says, the situation in his country became “unsustainable.”

But in Chile he found a reality that is far from what he dreamed of.

Without a place to sleep, he was left with no choice but to settle in a tent inBrazil square, in the center of Iquique, from where the past Friday, September 24 he was evicted by the police in an act that included resistance, struggles and left 14 detainees.

Wandering the streets again, Bryan found himself the next day (Saturday, September 24) with a march of protesters against migrants that would end even worse: with the burning of his few belongings.

“I kept what I was wearing, I have nothing. This has been horrible, “he tells BBC Mundo by phone.

“I was very afraid”

It was a devastating image that went around the world.

Mattresses, blankets, clothing, children’s toys and even diapers belonging to a group of Venezuelans burned as a mob of protesters shouted slogans against foreigners.

The convictions of acts of violence They did not take long to arrive, from individuals and organizations to representatives of the central government, led by Sebastián Piñera.

But three days after the events, none of this seems to reassure Bryan, who says he is scared and hurt by what happened.

The march ended with the burning of the migrants' belongings.  (Photo: Getty Images)

“They threw rocks, bottles, everything at us. And people, instead of helping, recorded with their phones; it was like a show for them. We feel humiliated, treated like animals, like garbage, ”he says.

“It is very sad that, because you are Venezuelan, you have gone through thousands of things, and they treat you like this,” he adds.

That day Bryan was accompanied by Moisés, also Venezuelan. The young man arrived in Chile six months ago and still cannot find a job or leave Iquique.

“I was very scared. There were boys, girls, pregnant women, elderly people … We all had to escape to the beach because they began to burn our tents, suitcases, all our clothes, ”he recalls for BBC Mundo.

After the march, Moisés says that they continued to wander the streets throughout the night.

“We look for a solution, but nothing. Nobody gave us a chance to stay in a little house or something. And now we continue walking around the street, looking for people to help us move forward, ”he says.

“We had to run away”

A few blocks from Bryan and Moses was Gabriela, another Venezuelan, 25 years old.

The woman had arrived in Chile that same Saturday, also irregularly, through the Colchane pass.

(Foto: Getty Images)

“A policeman came and told me: ‘Here comes the march, go because they are going to take your things,” he recalls.

“Along with another Venezuelan who was with her children, we grabbed our things and we had to run, with the children, with the bags, with everything. We did not know where to run, we were very afraid ”.

Gabriela walked a couple of blocks north. She is not sure where she ended up, but she stayed hidden in an alley.

“I felt a lot of fear, I felt that I was not welcome…. It was a crazy thing. Some friends were beaten, others had their tents burned, it was very ugly, “he adds.

A similar experience lived Mauricio, 22 years old. The young man left Venezuela on September 10 and, after crossing several countries in 10 days, arrived in Chile a week ago (also irregularly and via Colchane).

After fleeing the protesters, several migrants moved to the beach.  (Photo: Getty Images)

“When I found out what was happening, I grabbed my family, my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece, and we ran to isolate ourselves to a safe place, away from looting. And there we were able to take shelter for a couple of hours, “he says.

“I am afraid because we do not know the actions that other people can commit. Yesterday (Monday, September 27) I was in the street and a threatening man passed by ”.

Migratory crisis

Bryan, Moisés, Gabriela and Mauricio are part of a wave of migrants that has arrived in Chile in the last 10 years.

Foreigners increased from 305,000 in 2010 (which corresponded to 1.8% of the total Chilean population) to almost 1.5 million in 2020 (7.5% of the population), according to the organization Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes (SJM), which collected data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) and the Department of Immigration and Migration of Chile.

This is partly explained by the strong increase in Venezuelan immigration, which went from being a community of 8,000 in 2012 to 500,000 in 2020.

Many migrants enter Chile irregularly through the small town of Colchane, a few kilometers from the border with Bolivia.  (Photo: Getty Images)

According to INE estimates, Venezuelans make up the largest group of foreigners in Chile (30.5%), followed by Peruvians (15.8%) and Haitians (12.5%).

The new migratory wave has represented a strong challenge for Chile, where measures have had to be adopted against the clock to try to adapt its integration policies.

There have also been important social transformations: due to the large concentration of foreigners, the demographic profile of several cities has changed, especially those that are located in the north and near the borders with Peru and Bolivia, among them, Iquique.

“We know we are causing annoyance”

By not finding job opportunities or the possibility of regularizing their immigration status, many of the foreigners end up living on the streets, in precarious conditions.

And this has caused friction with the local population.

“I understand that Chileans have their laws and I respect them, but many immigrants are desperate because, for example, not everyone has 500 pesos (50 cents) to pay for a public bathroom. I prefer to buy food with that money and give it to the children instead of spending it on a bathroom, ”says Mauricio.

The arrival of migrants has caused annoyance among some Chileans, especially the inhabitants of the cities in the north of the country.  (Photo: Getty Images)

“We know that we cause annoyance when we are on the street. I don’t like sleeping on the street either, it’s ugly, there’s a lot of xenophobia, people don’t like us, ”adds Bryan.

“What happens is that we need money to pay for a room. And, in addition, many times they say to you: ‘Are you Venezuelan? No, I can’t lease you. ‘ So they don’t help us ”.

“When they say that we are criminals, we feel humiliated,” adds Moisés. “Because we are workers, we don’t want to make a problem for anyone. What we want is to work, raise the family, help them and achieve our goals and dreams ”.

“There are more good-hearted people”

Today many of these Venezuelans are receiving help from outreach organizations and the Catholic Church.

They have been given food and clothing, and installed in some makeshift accommodation.

The Chilean government enacted a new immigration law that facilitates "administrative expulsions" of undocumented foreigners.  (Photo: Getty Images)

“Many Chileans are helping us. There is more good side than bad side, ”he says.

Gabriela has the same opinion. “There are a lot of good people here. Not all Chileans are the same. There are more good-hearted people, ”says Mauricio.

For this reason, women do not lose hope that they will find a better future in Chile than in Venezuela.

“I am going to get to Santiago and there are going to be opportunities, I’m sure. My whole family is waiting for me, my sisters and my cousins, and I already have a job, ”he adds.


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