Catholic groups find shelter for Bolivian farm workers stranded in Chile

Chilean wine farm Credit Christopher Salerno  Shutterstock Chilean wine farm. | Christopher Salerno / Shutterstock.

When Bolivia closed its borders March 25 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, hundreds of Bolivian seasonal farm workers in central Chile found themselves stranded.

With their seasonal work ended and their savings depleted, many of the farm workers had no choice but to sleep on the streets of Santiago, unable to obtain food or shelter.

In the weeks that followed, Catholic groups stepped up to arrange shelter, food, and additional aid for the migrant workers.
Red CLAMOR, a network coordinating efforts among numerous organizations to serve migrants, refugees, and human trafficking victims, led the effort to provide temporary shelter for the Bolivians starting the night of April 28.

The network coordinated with the Chilean Catholic Institute for Migration, the Archdiocese of Santiago, the Vicariate for Social Ministry, the Human Mobility Ministry, Jesuit Migration Services, and Caritas Chile, as well as municipalities and the central government to arrange for shelter and meals for the Bolivians.

Initially, the network found accommodations for 600 people. By the first evening, however, the total had risen to 950, lodged at parishes and a local retreat house.

The migrant workers were provided with masks and hand sanitizer, meals, and sleeping mats. They are also being aided with legal advice on their employment situation and access to unemployment insurance.

Auxiliary Bishop Cristián Roncagliolo of Santiago said the effort was coordinated with the municipalities and other government authorities.

"For the moment it's a solution so that they can stay somewhere more decent than the street," the prelate said.

"It's our Gospel duty to welcome the stranger. But we know that's not enough. Because there are many more people that still need be in lockdown in order to later return to their country," he continued. "We encourage other social actors to be welcoming to the Bolivian brothers."

Lorenzo Figueroa, the director of Caritas Chile, called the situation "a new wakeup call about what the migrant communities are going through, especially during times of pandemic."

Caritas Chile reported that the Foreign Ministries of Chile and Bolivia have reached an agreement that if Bolivian citizens stay quarantined for 14 days in the city of Iquique in northern Chile, which is close to Bolivia, they can then return to their own country.

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