Stranded Between Peru and Chile

Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants, many of them children, are camping near the Peruvian-Chilean border, in a true limbo of paperwork, suffering and chaos.

Photo: Sputnik News retrieved

The Presbítero Andia street, where the Chilean Consulate in Tacna, Peru, is located, is usually bustling with activity, since it’s close to the Regional Government and the Judiciary’s headquarters. But since late June, it’s impossible to cross it, as it’s blocked by a camp of Venezuelan migrants waiting for Chilean visas, so they can enter through the nearby Chacalluta pass.

According to the census carried out by Venezuelans themselves, there are 164 tents, donated by individuals from Chile and Peru, housing an average of four people each. Originally, they slept on cardboard boxes, protected by the constant drizzle by roofs made of plastic bags. It’s winter in the region and temperatures may drop to 12° C at night.

On the road to limbo

Five people sleep in the tent of Rodbeddy Legón (36): his 2-year old daughter, his sister, two cousins and him. He lived in Aroa, Yaracuy, working with professional baseball teams as a physiotherapist and trainer. In December, 2018, he left for Arequipa, Peru, along with his wife and daughter. His wife left soon after, and he was left alone with the child.

Since late June, it’s blocked by a camp of Venezuelan migrants waiting for Chilean visas, so they can enter through the nearby Chacalluta pass.

“My sister decided to come help me for a few days and then we’d go to Chile because her husband’s there,” says Legón. They met in Peru, took a bus south and, on the road, they found out that starting on June 22nd, the Chilean government would demand a consular visa for Venezuelans entering their territory as tourists.

There was no warning to allow migrants like Rodbeddy to take precautions. The news went out that very day, effective immediately.

For the Legón family, this meant having to reorganize their future on the road. “Our cousins in Chile issued us a certified invitation, but my sister only has an ID card, no passport. I have a passport and my daughter has her birth certificate. They also demanded a consular permit signed by the mother, but we don’t know where she is or what’s become of her. She left and never asked for her daughter again or got in touch with me,” says Rodbeddy.

They remained in the border pass of Chacalluta, northern Chile, for four days. Then they went to the Chilean Consulate in Tacna, where they have an appointment for July 25th, more than a month after their trip started. Rodbeddy doesn’t know what he’ll do to work and care for his daughter if his sister is refused for lacking a passport: she helps him with the girl and holds a power signed by an attorney, enabling her as her surrogate mother.

An increasingly higher fence

Since April, 2018, Chilean immigration authorities have implemented a policy of “getting the house in order.” With the Immigration Law still in effect, it’s possible to enter Chile as a tourist and then change the immigration status, although that’s what they authorities are trying to avoid. First, with the Democratic Responsibility Visa, created in April, 2018, and now with the demand for a tourist visa.

According to official figures, between June 22nd and July 14th, 1,657 Venezuelans entered Chile through Chacalluta, among them 802 children, teenagers and women, many of them pregnant. Out of these 1,657 people, 487 are under 10 years old and have no ID card or passport, and the Chilean government allowed them entry solely with their birth certificate.

Krisbeth Moreno (28) says that those traveling only with their ID cards have no chance. “They won’t let anyone through with only their ID cards. We don’t know what documents they’ll demand, but people with passports must have an invitation from someone who’ll receive them, a bank account balance to verify that person’s earnings, criminal records and university diplomas with apostille. But once they see that a person has all the documents, they seek any excuse to screw them,” she claims.

She’s a teacher from Barquisimeto, and she’s traveling with her husband, a former police officer, and her children of 5 and 2 years old. She’s also with her brother and her sister-in-law. Another sister’s expecting them in Chile. “We didn’t do well in Peru, that’s why we went to Chile. For more job opportunities.”

They arrived in Chacalluta on June 22nd, staying for four days. “The people at the Chilean Human Rights Institute told us that families with children would have priority in the consulate. We trusted them, we got on a bus and they brought us to Tacna. They promised us they’d take us to a shelter, but we spent the night on the bus. They came out of the consulate in the morning and told us that they’d find a solution, and we’re still waiting here.” 

In her case, all six of them are only with their ID cards and living in a single tent.

“We don’t have bathrooms. They put up a few and then removed them to pressure us to leave. The Red Cross has supported us with treatments, because the children have been ill. I got bronchitis. Now I just found out that they’re demanding the parents’ travel permits, which have no apostille,” she adds. Her appointment is set for July 22nd.

Gutiérrez has asked Chilean authorities to flexibilize the requirements, especially the demand for passports.

Guarequena Gutiérrez, the Venezuelan representative in Chile, traveled to Chacalluta in late June to deliver food, medicines and supplies that the Red Cross collected since February, but were unable to send to Venezuela. Gutiérrez has asked Chilean authorities to flexibilize the requirements, especially the demand for passports. “What we’re asking is for more speed on people’s processes. They can’t be kept outside the consulate, because their conditions are deplorable. Even though they have appointments, there are urgent cases that need immediate response.”

Álvaro Bellolio, head of the Chilean Immigration Department (under the Interior Ministry,) said in Congress that the Venezuelan community, with 400,000, is the largest foreign community in his nation. Since April 2018, over 96,000 visas have been requested, 37,000 of which have been granted; 31,000 are in process and 30,000 have been rejected due to forged documents. Bellolio explained that the problem at the northern border comes because Peru decided to demand consular visas from Venezuelan migrants since June 15th, which increased the number of people coming to Chacalluta.

A liaison committee was established in January between the Interior and Foreign Ministries and the Venezuelan community. One of its members, Carlos Millán, says that they’re requesting a family reunification visa and have been registering Venezuelans who already live in Chile with a temporary visa, or in process for the definitive residency, who were outside the country when the announcement of the obligatory tourist visa was made and were forbidden to return. “The great problem that the Chilean government sees is that many people who were already residents in Peru want to cross to Chile and seek asylum, which makes no sense because they’d have to be persecuted in Peru.”

Between June 22nd and 29th, 119 illegal entries have been reported. Immigration lawyer Gabriel Cardozo denounces that there were already people securing these illegal entries before the tourist visa measure was announced. “The new visa demand just increases the chaos (…) Although the cause of the crisis is chavismo, this is the Chilean government’s fault, because they created a poor measure at a bad time, violating all of their international commitments,” he says, adding that he had the case of someone who was asked for a $150 bribe to speed up the process at the Tacna Consulate.

Since April 2018, over 96,000 visas have been requested, 37,000 of which have been granted; 31,000 are in process and 30,000 have been rejected due to forged documents.

Meanwhile, in Tacna, some parishes have organized to provide shelter, while many people still spend their nights in bus terminals. Jeribell Parada is with her four children under 12 years old in the Santa Rosa de Lima migrant shelter, but she’ll only stay there until July 17th. Then she’ll have leave to make room for someone else.

On Saturday, July 13th, mothers with children were told that they’d get attention. That morning, a woman fainted in the line and later, another suffered a miscarriage while she waited to enter the consulate.

The Chilean government estimates that 300,000 more Venezuelans will attempt to enter the country in the coming months.

Emily Avendaño

Journalist Magna Cum Laude of UCV. Winner of the 2017 Journalistic Excellence Award of the Inter-American Press Association. Gabriel García Márquez Finalists Award in 2014 and 2015.