Influx of new arrivals sparks immigration debate in Chile

Global Business

Chile is involved in a wider debate about immigration. The number of people arriving in Chile has increased rapidly in the past decade.

CGTN’s Joel Richards looks at the two cities in Chile with the largest immigration populations.

The team is a reflection of its community. Their name comes from a famous Mexican football club, all the players are from Haiti, and they compete in the amateur leagues in Santiago, Chile.

Cruz Azul Haiti represents one of the largest immigrant communities in this country. Four years ago, there were slightly more than a thousand Haitians in Chile. Now, according to government figures, there are 70,000.

Team manager Valentin Ace said that away from football, it is difficult for the Haitian community here.

“A lot of the players have problems because they don’t have papers in order to be able to work. A lot of jobs require permanent residency, which some of the players don’t have. So they work informally in construction, or in different jobs,” Ace said.

Ace hopes his four children can join him in Chile soon. Papers and the language barrier are just two of the difficulties facing Haitians in Chile.

Cruz Azul Haiti played in a foreigners league against teams from Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. The sheer number of immigrants who have arrived in Chile in recent years has caught this country off guard and sparked a national debate.

Apart from the capital Santiago, most immigrants arrive in the northern city of Antofagasta. In recent months, there have been reports of violence against immigrants, many of whom live in settlements on the outskirts of the city.

Chile’s immigrant population has doubled in the last decade. The country is debating a new immigration law to replace legislation dating back to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

But rights groups said the new law focuses on national security rather than immigrants’ rights and in turn, they claim the national debate is becoming increasingly xenophobic.

“Historically, Chile has a very segmented society,” Pablo Rojas of the Antofagasta Intercultural Council said. “There is a historical class divide. With the arrival of Colombians, Dominicans, Haitian, the relationship between class and racism has become clear.”

In Antofagasta, Colombians make up one of the largest immigrant communities. This bakery serves traditional Colombian pastries. All 13 employees are from Colombia, and so too are many of the customers. 24-year-old Rubian Albeiro arrived four months ago with his wife, and he said immigrants are sometimes insulted on the street, but it is only a minority of Chileans who feel negatively about immigrants.

Back in Santiago, Cruz Azul Haiti was prepared to take on reigning league champions Brazucas.

Lawyer Nicolas Pavez doubles up as team coach, along with helping the players settle in Chile.

“They are living four, five, six, even eight in a single room,” Pavez said. “They are paid very badly, the work is precarious, and their jobs are in cleaning or on the street. But then they come here and they are stars. That is the magic of football.”

If this was a professional game, Brazil against Haiti, it would be no contest. But here in the Foreigners League in Chile, Cruz Azul Haiti came out 4-1 winners, a respite for these players from the difficulties facing them in their new life.