Venezuelan migrants suffer extreme conditions when walking into Chile

Venezuelan migrants who pass to Chile through the border with Bolivia, at an altitude of more than 3,700 meters, suffer extreme cold and heat on their journey through the Andean highlands towards the Atacama desert.

Between January and the first week of February, a migratory wave doubled the population of 1,700 inhabitants of the small Aymara town of Colchane, in northern Chile. And Venezuelans continue to arrive in small groups, sparking growing rejection among locals.

« Today we passed with some Cubans and Bolivians, we had a few dollars to pay for the bus, but when we said where we were from they told us they did not want Venezuelans, » Anyier Prieto, 40, who left Caracas on January 25, told .. with her husband and 14-year-old daughter.

Local people, mostly Aymara who graze alpacas, claim to have suffered robberies from their homes when hundreds of migrants arrived every day a few weeks ago.

“For a few thugs, which we know there are, we all pay now. Nobody wants to give us any water anymore, ”Prieto lamented, crying with his daughter after having traveled more than 5,000 km and four countries from Venezuela.

« Believe me, the most horrible thing has been this, » said Reinaldo La Torre, his partner.

With freezing temperatures in the mornings and nights, gusts of winds of more than 30 km / h at sunset, and a scorching sun during the day, migrants can be seen crying from the cold, all with split lips after walking through a highway with sections over 4,350 meters high and defying the covid-19 pandemic.

Some drivers stop to see if they need anything, but they apologize for not being able to transfer them to Huara, a larger town located 170 km from Colchane, in the Atacama desert, and an hour from the city of Iquique, 2,100 km to the north of Santiago.

If a person helps them and transfers them, law enforcement can fine them, seize their car and even charge them with migrant smuggling, explains a police officer.

According to the information they handle at a border post, some 7,000 Venezuelan migrants have entered the country so far this year, almost double that reported by the authorities.

Since 2014, some 500,000 Venezuelans have settled in Chile, escaping the political and economic crisis in their country and have become the largest foreign colony.

In 2018, the government of Sebastián Piñera put into effect a democratic responsibility visa for Venezuelans who want to establish themselves legally, but only about 27% of the applications have been approved.

Last week, and due to the increase in the flow through the northern border, a hundred migrants, mostly Venezuelans, were expelled from the country.

This Thursday, the Justice annulled the expulsion order of some fifty of them, alleging that they did not have due process. Most of those expelled are already in Venezuela.