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Chile: Return Migration to Bolivia (COVID-19 Context) Information Bulletin No. 1

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ARO is publishing this special report on population movement due to the impact, flows and preexisting dynamics in the region and the importance to reflect the coordination between NSs and IFRC to meet the needs of populations affected by COVID-19 and Migration.

The situation

In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Bolivia declared the total closure of its borders except for health and safety matters on 26 March 2020.

A government order to suspend the repatriation of Bolivian citizens from the Chilean city of Huara dated on 30 March, together with the intensification of border patrols, caused concern among thousands of Bolivian citizens in Chile who started to reach the border towns and their consulates in the attempt to return to their country.

Most of the Bolivian citizens trying to return to their country are seasonal workers in the agricultural and wine-growing areas of central and northern Chile. The working season, which is between September and April, ended abruptly due to the economic slowdown that the pandemic is causing, thus leaving them without work and with no means to survive. In addition, many longer- term residents have decided to reunite to their families in Bolivia due to the lack of work in Chile. The majority of the population aiming to return to Bolivia includes families with young children, pregnant women and elderly.

Between the end of March to date, Bolivian citizens have continued to reach the northern and border towns of Huara, Colchane, or to camp out at their consulates in Iquique, Antofagasta, Calama and in the capital Santiago, to demand the authorities to help them return home and open the borders. Bolivian citizens have camped in makeshift tents for days despite the low autumnal temperatures, the night curfew in Chile and the social distance rules, with no access to safe water and food, and without basic hygiene facilities.

Arrangements between the Bolivian Government and the Chilean counterpart, with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), local authorities and local organizations, ensured shelter, basic medical assistance and humanitarian aid for 1,600 Bolivians stranded in the cities of Iquique and Antofagasta where they have been transported to start a preventive quarantine in school-turned shelters.

While some Bolivians were allowed to return to their country over the past few weeks, many of them are still stranded in Chile in need of food, safe water, winter clothes and shelter. A large number of Peruvians and Venezuelans are also in the same situation.

In addition, the presence of 20 individuals with COVID-19 among a group of Bolivians who moved from Santiago to Iquique at the end of April raised concern and indignation among host communities and local authorities of the northern region. The Mayor of Iquique publicly communicated his intention to sue the national Government for putting in danger the health of the citizens and for not having consulted the decision with the local government.

The COVID-19 health emergency hampers the humanitarian assistance, both threatening the Bolivian and other migrants stranded in Chile and putting at risk the life of health and humanitarian workers.

The Chilean Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with the financial support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), continues monitoring the situation and providing humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants in coordination with local governmental authorities and partners.