Clashes as Chile police evict migrant squatters

·2-min read

Chilean police clashed with undocumented migrants in the Pacific port city of Iquique Friday as authorities evicted hundreds who have been squatting in a public square for months.

About 100 police took part in the operation that left one person injured and resulted in five arrests on the Plaza Brasil, officials reported.

Thousands of illegal migrants, mainly Venezuelan families, started arriving in Iquique a year ago, living on the streets in tents and surviving through charity donations, begging or doing odd jobs for cash.

Many of them arrived on foot after an exhausting journey via Bolivia. Many had lived in Peru before coming to Chile, and told AFP they left there due to heightened anti-Venezuelan xenophobia.

As police moved in to expel them on Friday, some resisted as residents of the neighborhood looked on -- some in support of the police, others denouncing the action.

"It cannot go on like this," said one neighbor, who identified herself only as Mariela.

"I had to move and I have not been able to rent out my house (because) our square has been taken over: there they eat, they go to the bathroom. One cannot live like this," she told AFP.

"The authorities have not come up with a solution for them or for us."

- 'Like we're animals' -

The authorities did not respond to AFP's attempts to find out where the migrants were taken.

The evacuation took place on the eve of a march planned in the city against undocumented migrants.

Joselyn, a 30-year-old Venezuelan who would not give her surname, said many among the squatters had sought to rent accommodation legally, "but the owners said no, simply because we are migrants."

Luis, another Venezuelan migrant aged 24, wondered what would happen to them.

"They are not giving us any papers, they are kicking us out like we're animals. Animals are not even treated like this," he said.

Local authorities and residents claim crime has increased since the arrival of the migrants.

"The evacuation of these spaces has to do with the fact that it is not allowed to use public spaces with a recreational purpose to put up temporary housing," said Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado.

Many of the migrants who enter Chile from the north are headed for Santiago or further south with the help of family or friends already there, but others without resources or even identity papers get stuck in mining or industrial cities in the north.

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