SANTIAGO – A fire that broke out in a poor neighborhood of the Chilean capital brought to light once again the dangers and subhuman, overcrowded conditions endured by thousands of immigrant families looking for a better life.
The accident that occurred in the early hours last Friday in a tenement in downtown Santiago affected 12 families, both Chilean and foreigners, whose homes burned down and whose belongings were destroyed.
According to official data, some 500,000 immigrants live in Chile, though the exact number remains unknown due to the undocumented arrivals who have never been registered, a fact of great concern to the authorities.
“A law is needed, but it won’t solve the cultural problem. It’s not a question of papers, it’s a cultural thing in a country that views African-American and American-Indian immigration with suspicion,” the Jesuit priest Felipe Berrios told EFE.
The Michelle Bachelet government promised to modernize the existing migration law, which dates back to 1975 and considered foreigners a “threat” to national security, an attitude established by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.
But the foreign community was disillusioned this week when it learned that the hoped-for legislation will be left to the next government, to be headed starting in March 2018 by the conservative Sebastian Piñera, who associates immigration with “criminals” coming into the country.
According to official figures, the main communities living in Chile are Peruvian with 30 percent, Colombian with 13.6 percent, Bolivian with 10.2 percent and Ecuadorian with 6.5 percent, while the others from Latin America and the Caribbean add up to 16.5 percent.
In recent years, the growing number of Haitians arriving has become a milestone of migration to the Southern Cone, amounting to 60,000 people in Chile alone in 2017.
The Immigration Law, enacted in 1975 during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, is the oldest in South America and was adopted when there were no more than 100,000 foreigners in the country, whereas the number today is five times greater.