Churches, Ecumenical, and Civil Organizations Advocate for Venezuelan Migrants in Chile
On September 26, almost 5,000 people took to the streets of Iquique amid the growing migration crisis in Chile, calling their government to end “illegal migration,” mainly Venezuelans, using violence, shouting racist statements, and burning the few belongings that the immigrants had in one of the city’s squares. Press reports described how the protesters burned tents, clothing, and baby carriages, among other objects belonging to Venezuelan migrants. The events shocked the country and aroused fiery criticism from the UN Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, Felipe González, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Amnesty International. The demonstration, in which xenophobic screams were heard and many Chilean flags were seen, occurred after the Police evicted families with children from a square in Iquique, the first large city migrants encounter in Chile, upon their arrival from Bolivia.
Press reports said that the Chilean authorities have been fueling xenophobia as they expel migrants in white overalls, making them lose their humanity and the impression that they are like an internal enemy. (See https://interferencia.cl/articulos/iquique-televisar-la-verguenza.) That results in a total contradiction of what many analysts and political figures pointed out as the central message transmitted by President Sebastián Piñera two years before in Cúcuta, Colombia, near the Venezuelan border. In February 2019, President Piñera traveled to Cúcuta on a “humanitarian” visit to help the Venezuelan people and invited them to go to Chile “to escape the government of Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president.” The invitation was unequivocal: “I am going to use everything in my power to help get out of this brutal and humanitarian crisis that is starving the Venezuelan people […] We are going to receive more Venezuelans in Chile, and we will welcome them because we have a duty to show solidarity with a people that was generous when Chile lost its democracy.” (See https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2021/09/26/oposicion-se-alinea-contra-el-gobierno-por-crisis-migratoria-acusan-abandono-irresponsabilidad-y-descoordinacion/)
Today, it is being said by the quoted sources that these words sound like capital irresponsibility. In all this time, the Chilean government has been unable to create minimum conditions to give dignity to the Venezuelan families who are effectively fleeing their country. This added to previous government actions against migrants that contributed to dehumanize them, such as expelling them wearing white overalls as if they were criminals.
A group of ecumenical organizations signed a Declaration raising their voices against what happened in Iquique and demanding the fulfillment of Human Rights for those and every other migrant in Chile. Two of those organizations are Global Ministries’ partners (Foundation for Social Action for Christian Churches, FASIC, and the Evangelical Theological Community of Chile, CTE). Here are the contents of the Declaration:
JOINT DECLARATION FROM CHURCHES, ECUMENICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
September 27, 2021, Chile
On their return, the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.“ Luke 9: 10-17.
Given the events and actions that occurred in recent days in the north of Chile, we declare the following:
Chile, as well as other sister countries in Latin America, is the scene of the daily arrival of hundreds of desperate people, mainly from the sister country of Venezuela. They come here based on the welcoming word of the Chilean authority given in Cúcuta, in February 2019. However, citizens in Iquique, upset and fearful of being increasingly affected by this situation, chose to march against immigrants. They even burned their belongings. Instead of helping to organize solidarity in the face of such a humanitarian crisis and providing adequate protection to people in a highly vulnerable condition, the authorities have focused their speech on the promise of strengthening border control and on the announcement of new expulsions, which is an unsuccessful solution to the underlying problem of the conflict, since, somewhat, it has exacerbated it.
The contrast between the acts seen in Iquique and the cited Gospel text is evident. In addition, it should be noted that Chile socially calls itself a country with a culture of solidarity. Nonetheless, the events that have occurred demonstrate the contradiction between what is professed and the facts. On the part of the authority, the omission to foresee the role of safeguarding people is profoundly striking. It shows how far it has been from Christian and universal values. Therefore, we believe that the response to the current governance and humanitarian crisis contrasts and demonstrates the disconnect with these universal values. Such acts fill us with sadness and shame.
On behalf of the entities that subscribe to this Declaration, we express our complete rejection of any act of verbal, symbolic, or physical violence against people who have come to Chile looking for a safe place to live. According to international law, we affirm that there are no illegal people and that all people are subjects of rights. Therefore, no one can deny them.
But our primary call is for the government authorities to take responsibility for the humanitarian dimension of this crisis within the framework of what is established by international law and the fundamental ethical principles of our shared humanity.
In this time, we, as a national community formed mainly by immigration, are challenged to rethink and redefine the fundamental bases for genuinely democratic coexistence. Our collective response to this crisis, including the government, opposition, social organizations, churches, and civil society, will be a concrete test of the absolute will to advance towards a better society.
FASIC: Foundation for Social Aid of Christian Churches
INCAMI: Chilean Catholic Institute of Migration
SEPADE: Evangelical Service for Development
CTE: Evangelical Theological Community of Chile
IMECH : Methodist Church of Chile
IELCH: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile
PASTORAL FOR MIGRANTS IELCH
IEPCH: Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Chile