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Human Mobility along the Chilean-Bolivian borders: Information Bulletin No. 1

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Situation Report
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This bulletin is being issued for informative purposes and reflects the current situation and details available at publication. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is seeking funding from donors for the migration operation in Chile and Bolivia through the Emergency Appeal Americas: Population Movement (MDR42004), which has a CHF 4.3 million funding gap and has been recently extended until 30 June 2021.

The situation

An increasing number of migrants are using irregular paths to cross the land border into Chile from Bolivia. In late January, up to 800 migrants are crossing daily, which is a 530% increase of the 150 people crossing in November 2020.

Faced with this increased irregular migration, the Chilean Government has announced the establishment of four more check points, controlled by the police and military forces on the border in the Tarapacá province, specifically near Colchane commune and Pisiga in Oruro department in Bolivia. The Colchane commune is located at 3,730 metres above sea level.

As a protective measure against the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Chile closed its land, maritime and air borders in mid-March 2020. It only opened its air borders in November 2020. As of 7 January 2021, all people entering the country require a negative PCR test, as well as be in compulsory quarantine for 10 days.

As of 3 February 2021, there are more than 1,500 migrants located outdoors in Colchane´s main square. Few measures against the possible spread of COVID-19 can be implemented due to the overcrowding, lack of access to water and hygiene items, as well as the saturation of local services. Most of the migrants lack personal protection equipment (PPE) or use deteriorated masks. There is a high risk of COVID-19 contagion among the migrant and concerns over local health capacities to attend to COVID-19 cases of the local and migrant populations. Additionally, different health conditions include dehydration, hypothermia, pneumonia, hypertension, malnutrition, and diabetes.

While most of the people crossing are migrants from Venezuela, Peruvians and Bolivians are also using these irregular paths, located in extreme weather and geographical conditions with temperatures dropping to -5º Celsius at night and reaching up to 30º Celsius during the day.

The highland winter season, which includes heavy rain, hailstorm, floods, and lower temperatures, starts in February which might increase the vulnerabilities of the migrant population. Two migrants - a Venezuelan and a Colombian - died because of the low temperatures in the area.

In the Tarapaca region, the presence of actors that work directly with the migrant population is very limited. Since November 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been providing food and winter kits to migrants. Around 200 servings of food are provided daily. The IOM team is currently the only humanitarian actor in the field.

Local basic services, particularly health, water, and sanitation, which are already challenged due to the COVID19 pandemic, have stretched resources to attend to the current number of migrants in the area. The Municipality of Colchane has reinforced its normal two-doctor team with six additional professionals. In the last week of January, local authorities established emergency medical care in a community gymnasium to offer treatment for dehydration, hunger, and hypoxia due to the altitude.

Local actors and authorities have the capacity to provide food to approximately 25 per cent of the people in this border region. Highland winter rains have been forecast for this week and next. Due the lack of shelters, people are sleeping outside in the main square and other central locations. This has provoked sunburn during the day and hypothermia from the sub-zero temperatures at night. The authorities plan to set up a tent that will provide emergency shelter to 200 to 250 people. The most urgent needs involve the provision of relief assistance (food boxes, winter kits, shelter kits, hygiene kits, personal protection equipment, water) as well as primary health care.