Haitians headed home after weeks in Chilean church
After two weeks of hope, anxiety and uncertainty, the group of 55 Haitians waiting inside a Santiago church to be repatriated were among the 179 compatriots boarding a Chilean air force Boeing 767 flight to Port-au-Prince this Monday as part of a voluntary repatriation plan.
It all happened due to a “communication error,” said Cristina Castro, administrator of San Cruz Parish where the 55 immigrants who tried to get on the first of the flights back home were lodged.
The repatriation plan, promoted by President Sebastian Piñera, offered the Haitians the chance of a free flight home if they agreed not to return to Chile for at least nine years.
“When the day of the flight arrived, these 55 people could not board for various reasons, either for lack of documentation, or because they hadn’t confirmed the required steps to take, or because they had received a fake text message assuring them of a place on the plane,” Castro said.
In their eagerness to return to Haiti, she said, many decided to “leave the places where they were living and go to Santiago,” believing they could be in the first group to return to Haiti.
But once here, without a seat on the plane, they were left on the streets until the municipal government decided to move them on the parish.
“We showed ourselves willing to receive them because in winter we operate like an inn for people on the street, which means we have ties with the municipality and the space where they could stay,” the administrator said.
Despite that, living together wasn’t easy at first, and anxiety reigned both inside and outside the church, where hundreds of immigrants turned up believing that if they found refuge inside the church, they would be among the first chosen for the next flight.
The situation went on for two weeks until other organizations welcomed those who were waiting outside the church and the government told the 55 people inside that they would be on the flight planned for 179 Haitians this Monday, which calmed them down.
Chile’s deputy interior minister, Rodrigo Ubilla, said Monday that the repatriation program provides a “manifest need” of the Haitians following the “poor quality of the life they led in Chile.”
The plan has come under criticism from the opposition and from organizations that work with immigrants, who call it disguised deportation.
In all, close to 2,000 Haitians have signed up for the program.
Chile, a country of more than 18 million people, currently hosts roughly 1.09 million immigrants. The largest national contingents are Venezuelans, Peruvians, Haitians and Colombians, in that order, according to official figures.