When Guadalupe left her home in Bolivia, she hoped she would find a better life for her family. She settled on the outskirts of Arica, a major port in the north of Chile on the border with Peru, where she lives with her husband and three children.
But they do not have electricity, running water, or even a ceiling.
“The fridge doesn’t work,” she said, as the hot desert sun shone through the open roof. “And here’s where we do the dishes,” she added, pointing to a bucket of brown water.
A decrepit couch, a rusted stroller, and torn-up Chilean flags sat outside her front door, in a makeshift encampment on the fringes of the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth outside of Antarctica.
Her next door neighbour, Maura who, like Guadalupe, asked that her last name be omitted, for security reasons also fled Bolivia, with the same dreams.
“I came here looking for work,” she said. “But we still can’t afford a place to live.”
According to Un Techo para Chile, an NGO that lobbies the government to build housing for the poor its name means “A roof for Chile” more than 36,000 families live in encampments across the country, without basic access to water and electricity. The vast majority of residents are foreign nationals.
Chile’s migrant population has doubled within the last five years, climbing to nearly 500,000 documented foreign-born residents. The government expects the number to double again within the next decade.
The swelling has been widely attributed to the country’s booming mining economy and growing labor market, which has attracted people from all over Latin America, in search of what’s been dubbed the Chilean Dream. Chile is the richest country in South America, by gross domestic product per capita; land-locked Bolivia, which shares a border with it, is the poorest.
“Their dream is financial stability, social stability, and sometimes emotional stability,” said Javiera Cerda, a migrant outreach worker for Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes in Arica.
Cerda helps new immigrants begin their adjustment to life in Chile, working to get them access to housing and health care. However, the country’s strict migration policy still governed by legislation enacted by the Pinochet dictatorship, which viewed migration as a threat to national security has made it difficult for migrants to cross legally.
In fact, the difficulties of entering the country legally drive countless people to do so illegally, through the desert. However, here they are met with a far more dangerous remnant of the Pinochet dictatorship: swaths of land mines.
“Two years ago there was a considerable amount of rainfall and it overflowed the river and the landmines spread,” said Cerda. “The government doesn’t know where they are anymore.”
More than 120 unlucky people have tripped these mines, with more than 30 killed, most recently in February of this year when a Peruvian man took a wrong step trying to enter the country. Two of Cerda’s clients are survivors of landmine explosions. Both lost a leg in the accident.
“I don’t think has made any progress removing the mines,” she said. “I don’t think they care.”
There are more than 36,0000 families living in camps across all of Chile, like this one (Photo by Jon Hernandez)
But people are willing to die to get into Chile. And some Chileans don’t want them there.
One of them is Andrs Montero, a conservative columnist and radio host based in the capital Santiago. “If you want to live in a country, you cannot run over the mountains, evading the police,” he said. “You have to do it through the proper way, face to face.”
Montero has used his position as a columnist for El Lbero to call for tighter controls around the country’s borders. He says there aren’t enough jobs to support the stream of unskilled workers entering Chile, which is contributing to a housing crisis.
“I am not against immigration,” he added. “I’m in favor of immigration, but it has to be rationally implemented.”
Some have reacted more extremely to the influx of migrants.
In Antofagasta, a major northern mining town, people have demonstrated against a recent surge of Colombians. Violent street fights have erupted.
“Immigrants live in certain neighborhoods when they first come, and their customs are very different from Chileans, so the culture clash is significant,” said Benjamin Parra, the president of the Organization of Colombian Residents in Antofagasta.
The number of encampments in Antofagasta has risen from four to 50 in the last four years, according to Parra. The municipal government tried to curb the growth of camps last September, when mayor Karen Rojo called for the mass evictions of 26 settlements across the town.
“What are you going to do with 3,400 families? You can’t throw them into the ocean.”
But with no plan to relocate the residents, the move was heavily criticized by local activists, most notably Father Felipe Berrios.
“What are you going to do with 3,400 families? You can’t throw them into the ocean,” Berrios, who works with Un Techo para Chile, said. “You can’t make poverty disappear.”
“We were very close to making encampments disappear in Antofagasta, but then the earthquake hit the south in 2010, and all the money destined for social housing was funnelled there,” he said.
Berrios voluntarily moved into La Chimba, one of the original encampments in Antofagasta. It was built illegally on a dry hillside on the edge of town, and taps into the local energy grid, stealing power from the city. He tries hard to make it a comfortable place to live, and has even introduced a set of rules, including no drinking and no loud music after dark.
There’s a makeshift daycare, a small library, and even a waiting list to get in. The only thing people have to pay for is water.
“I’m happy and proud to live in a place like this,” said Helena Vazquez, a Peruvian migrant who’s lived in La Chimba for three years. She runs a mini-convenience store in the camp, and is in charge of looking after her street at night.
“My dream was to have my own house, something that in my country I couldn’t dream about,” she said.
“I found peace here.”
This Article is from : ViceNews.com