Chile returned a planeload of Haitian immigrants back to their native country on Nov. 7 after its government implemented its Humanitarian Return Plan that was criticized by migrant groups as a “covert deportation.”
At a Santiago sports center, 176 people gathered to board coaches for the airport and a Chilean air force flight destined for the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
A total of 1,087 people have signed up for the flights back to Haiti, the Chilean interior ministry said in a statement.
Around 150,000 Haitians have immigrated to Chile in the past two years, it said.
According to an interview with The Council of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 27, President Sebastián Piñera made a plan to stop the inflow of undocumented foreigners because they had been mislead by human traffickers with false promises and had failed to follow Chile’s visa laws.
“You cannot continue with what has happened so far. There is immense illegal immigration, that it is not safe, that it is not orderly and that harms immigrants,”Piñera said.
The Humanitarian Return Plan requires those leaving to sign a declaration that they will not return for nine years, and will take any immediate family back home with them.
But the policy has generated controversy among some migrant groups, activists, and academics who are concerned that Haiti remains one of the world’s poorest countries, blighted by natural disasters, political upheaval, and poor security.
The National Platform of Haitian Organisations in Chile, which represents 30 separate refugee groups, said on Nov. 7 that the flights represented “an enforced deportation of people” and accused Chile’s government of adopting “racist” policies.
Jose Tomas Vicuna, director of Chile’s Jesuit Centre for Migrants, said the need for such flights should pain all Chileans. “176 people leave with significant emotional baggage from what they have experienced in Chile,” he wrote on Twitter.
Chile’s interior ministry rejected allegations of racism and deportation, saying “assisted voluntary returns” are supported by the United Nations.
Subsecretary Rodrigo Ubilla told reporters at the airport on Nov. 7 that migrants from Colombia were requesting a similar service.
“These people formally made this request because they have not been able to achieve their dream of finding a new life in our country,” he said.
At the sports center, returnees told Reuters they had encountered joblessness, hunger, and what felt like racism in Chile.
Jean Baptiste Brignol, 38, said he had a visa, but could not find work. “The bosses of the companies here don’t want Haitians working for them. They don’t like the skin color,” he said. “President Piñera took pity on us and we are grateful.”
By Aislinn Laing and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
Epoch Times staff member Alan Cheung contributed to this article.