Elizabeth López is very thin and sunburned. He walked for three days to advance 32 kilometers from Pozo Almonte to Huara, two towns in the interior of the Tarapacá Region, in the middle of the Atacama Desert. He was accompanied by a group of eight people, including his three-year-old son, who is Chilean. “We want to cross Bolivia because in Arica, the police in Peru asked for 100 thousand pesos. That’s what other Venezuelans who left Chile also said,” he explained.
—Which country are they going to?
We returned to Venezuela.
—Where do they live in Chile?
—In Nogales, but there is no way to work. We can’t get the papers. And we’re all put in a bag because of some bad guys doing bad things. Other Venezuelans robbed us.
Elizabeth added that they left in October from Nogales. They only reached the Tarapacá region in January, as they walked most of the route. They only stopped in a few cities to try to earn some coins by selling candy. “It is difficult to take them on the road. Many people passed by, and what they did was funny; they shouted rude things at us, but we went with trust in God.he assured.
Almost 300 kilometers further north, at the Tacna bus terminal (Peru), Alejandra Salas, also Venezuelan, is waiting for her bus to leave, where she will travel with her two children, aged 20 and 4. She is sitting among a group of 12 countrymen. Out of that whole group, only one of them will go to Chile. All the rest left the country. “We are going to the United States,” said Alejandra. When asked if Venezuela was an option to return to, they replied “Nooo!” in the chorus.
Alejandra’s plan is to cross all of Latin America to reach the United States, where a daughter is waiting for her. “But I will wait a bit in Peru, because Ecuador is very dangerous. “I’m also afraid to cross the Darien Jungle… I try not to think about it.”
According to the records of the shelters of the Scalabrini Foundation, which operates in Tacna and Arica, in the last months of last year, a change in the migratory phenomenon began to be recorded: the number of irregular foreigners who left Chile equals the number of those trying to reach the country. Since this is irregular migration, there are no official figures, so the data from these institutions is among the few that exist to help quantify these migration flows.
The records of the Scalabrini Foundation are consistent with the surveys carried out in Arica by the Caritas Foundation in August of this year. Of these, 50% of migrants are also registered with the intention of leaving Chile, and 50% are arriving in the country (86 migrants were told). In that case, the main destinations of those leaving Chile are Venezuela, Peru, the United States, and Colombia.
Once, The counter He spoke to about twenty migrants in different parts of the north of the country and Tacna, in Peru. Most said they would leave Chile.
Isaldo Bettin, a Brazilian priest who collaborates with the Tacna shelter, explains that until now, in 2024, “Of those we have attended, there are more people leaving Chile than those going to Chile. The numbers are comparable, and it is difficult to say if this is a trend that will continue because migration events are very dynamic, but it started to be seen in the last months of 2023.”.
Bettin added that when the migrants were asked why they left Chile, they argued that “it is very difficult to regularize their papers, with more discrimination against Venezuelans (the main nationality that is irregularly crossing the border) and that it increased the cost of life.”.
Milagros Calizaya, who manages the projects of the Scalabrini Foundation in Arica, explained that according to the records kept at the shelter in that city, from September to January, 50% of the migrants who passed through that facility left Chile. (More than 200 migrants were welcomed last year in that area, with limited spaces, so there is usually a waiting list.).
Many are clear that they want to leave Venezuela, but where they will go and with what networks and support are not clear. So, if they don’t feel accepted in a place, they continue to migrate,” Calizaya said.
Jessica Calizaya, a collaborator at the Tacna shelter, added that children are the most affected by this constant migration: “There are some who, at the age of 8 or 9, still cannot read and write. It is very shocking because they did not live their childhood properly. On the way, they ate very little; they were underweight. They arrived here and wanted to eat and eat, but their mothers warned them to do it slowly because they might get sick.
Mafias and bribes
A group of about 40 migrants camped right on the Concord line, on the side of the busy route connecting Tacna and Arica. The majority were Haitians and Venezuelans waiting at night to cross into Peru, according to taxi drivers who transport tourists and businessmen between the two border towns. “They waited until nightfall, because at that time the Peruvian police officers paid them bribes and then brought them taxis to take them to Tacna. Because of this, the groups of people on the Concord Line change every day,” said one of the taxi drivers.
What he reported was consistent with what irregular migrants reported at the counter and what the Peruvian press has been reporting since at least September of last year: the police agents charge an amount ranging from 20 thousand to 100 thousand pesos for them to pass.
“We had to wait at the border because they charged 40 thousand (Chilean) pesos each. It was collected by the Peruvian police. Then we have to pay the taxi drivers 20 thousand Chilean pesos per person from the border to Tacna,” said Alejandra Salas. The regulated price of a taxi from Arica to Tacna, per person, is $6,500.
Added to the bribes are the tricks of the “coyotes,” who, after charging them large sums of money to show them the hidden routes, usually abandon the migrants in the desert after they steal.
Jéssica Calizaya explained that some children told her of the impact of seeing their parents lose everything after being attacked by coyotes, or “trocheros,” as they are also called: “When crossing, they stole their parents; they even took their documents.” sometimes his own countrymen. The children are left with that: ‘they did this to my parents.’ Children are like sponges, and they absorb everything.”