SANTIAGO – More than 400 Bolivian citizens have camped out for three days at their country’s consulate in Chile to demand the authorities help them return home and open the borders, which have been closed for more than one month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are asking that they give us a solution to return to our country at once and we will stay here until we get an answer,” Claire, who is camping with a friend in front of the diplomatic headquarters in the Chilean capital, told EFE.
With tents and many suitcases, Bolivians have been arriving in recent days from different parts of Chile and among them are pregnant women, elderly and children who face nights of low temperatures with blankets and coats.
Most of them are seasonal workers in the agricultural and wine-growing areas of central and northern Chile, who have been left without work due to the economic slowdown that the health emergency is causing.
“I don’t have money anymore. I don’t even have anything to eat. I’m just eating bread and most of us are like this. That’s why we’re on the street,” one camper, Palermo, told state TV channel 24 Horas.
“We ask both the Chilean president and the Bolivian president to put their hands on their hearts, to transfer us back to our country. We are not asking for more,” added compatriot Jeannete, who acknowledged the difficulties of complying with social distancing measures in the improvised camp.
The Bolivians are being attended to by social organizations and municipal authorities, and they denounce that nobody from the consulate has approached them.
“The consul is not here and the consulate is closed. We contacted the consul and he pointed out that he cannot do anything, which we found to be a terrible response,” said Sergio Micco, director of the National Human Rights Institution, one of the most important social organizations in Chile.
Since the pandemic reached the American continent, hundreds of Bolivians have tried to return to their country, which has closed its borders and airspace and only allows nationals who have completed two weeks of quarantine to enter.
In a humanitarian operation, the government of Chile opened two shelters in the northern cities of Iquique and Antofagasta, which are full and where nearly 800 Bolivians have already undergone quarantine and have been able to return home.
Bolivians camped in Santiago will have to undergo a preventive quarantine in Iquique before traveling to their country, according to Chilean Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera.
“The 14 days that these Bolivian citizens spend in Iquique will be recognized in Bolivia and once they enter the country, they will be free from any other quarantine,” said the Chilean minister after speaking with his Bolivian counterpart and meeting with the consul of Bolivia.
“It is important that the people who have come to work in Chile, who were seasonal workers, whose work is over, can return to their countries as quickly as possible, in good condition and without negative situations,” added Ribera, who also said that the quarantine will be financed by the International Organization for Migration.
There is also a hostel in Pisiga, on the Bolivian side of the border, where arrivals have to continue undergo quarantine before returning home, although this group will not have to go through this process after completing a quarantine in Chile.
The operation, however, has not been without difficulties. On April 7, there were moments of tension and clashes between Bolivian soldiers and citizens who tried to enter their country, where strict confinement was decreed until April 30 and where there were 50 deaths and 950 confirmed cases.
As of Tuesday, Chile, where confinement is milder, has recorded 14,365 confirmed cases and 207 deaths.