SANTIAGO – A Chilean Air Force (FACH) airplane took off from Santiago Wednesday with more than 150 Haitians onboard on their way back home in what some regarded as a “humanitarian flight” and others dubbed a “forced deportation.”
At a Santiago sports centre, 176 people gathered to board coaches for the airport and a Chilean air force flight destined for the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
Some 165,000 Haitians have migrated to Chile in the past two years, of whom 1,087 have signed up for the flights home, the Chilean interior ministry said in a statement.
President Sebastián Piñera’s move to bring down the number of migrants required applicants to sign a declaration that they will not return for nine years and to take any immediate family with them.
The government said the policy was aimed at those who had struggled to find work in one of Latin America’s richest economies, in some cases having been lured by people traffickers with false promises.
But the policy has generated controversy. The National Platform of Haitian Organisations in Chile, which represents 30 separate refugee groups, spoke of “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.
Hoy parte el primer vuelo hacia Haití.
176 personas que pueden llevar 23 kilos de equipaje y 5 de bolso de mano; pero parten además con una carga emocional mucho mayor por lo vivido en Chile.
Y eso nos debe doler y pesar también a quienes quedamos acá
— José Tomás Vicuña SJ (@Chumisj) November 7, 2018
Chile’s interior ministry rejected those allegations saying assisted voluntary returns are supported by the United Nations and that migrants from Colombia were requesting similar assistance.
There were originally 176 Haitians scheduled to board the FACH’s Boeing 767, but one man changed his mind at the airport, unwilling to leave his Chilean girlfriend behind, it was reported.–With input from MercoPress