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To Avoid the Crisis, Haitians Leave Brazil for Chile

05/09/2016 - 09h57

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EMILIO SANT'ANNA
AVENER PRADO
SPECIAL ENVOYS TO CHILE

Driven away by the economic crisis, Haitian immigrants who came to Brazil to try to rebuild their lives after the 2010 earthquake that affected their country are now leaving Brazil.

They are leaving by the same door used to enter cities like São Paulo and Curitiba: the main highways, through which thousands of immigrants came after they had crossed the border into Brazil in the state of Acre. Since the beginning of the decade, some 45,000 Haitian immigrants have come to Brazil.

They now pursue a new promising future on the other side of the Andes Mountains, in Chile, where the minimum wage surpasses the Brazilian one by some US$ 100.
It is the same strategy followed by Bolivian immigrants who are now returning to their country.

"I can no longer pay for rent, water and electric bills and send some money back to my family in Haiti. Things are not as they were when I first arrived here," says Haitian Jean Antonie Camille, 42, who left Cambé (PR) last week to try to start a new life in Chile.

The flow of immigrants can be measures at the ticket offices of the two companies that provide bus services from São Paulo to Santiago, Chile, every week. Employees of these companies say that the number of tickets sold has risen since the end of 2015.

Sometimes each bus carries some 20 immigrants. On other weeks, there are 15 - which does not necessarily mean that the same number of immigrants will in fact reach the Chilean territory, as it is easier to leave than it is to arrive.

There aren't any official data, but nearly every week one immigrant is stopped and held at the border between Chile and Argentina. When that occurs, immigrants have to stay at the customhouse in the middle of the Andes, 3,200 meters above sea level, with nobody to count on and wait for the next bus or a ride to go back to Argentina.

MOVEMENT

This year, from January to the end of April, the Brazilian Federal Police registered 3,234 Haitian immigrants leaving the Brazilian territory. That is more than twice the number (1,372) that left the country in the same period in 2015.

To enter Chile, these immigrants have to leave Brazil with a two way ticket (each part of the trip costs between R$ 446 and R$ 460), the National Registry of Foreigners and an invitation letter from a Chilean resident - who is usually another Haitian.

That is the problem. "They started to make copies of the letter for many Haitians, and when the customs office noticed the strategy, it began to hold them," says driver Sérgio Fontoura, 38, who witnesses the Haitians' journeys every week.

In Santiago, the Haitian immigrants take the jobs that Chilean workers do not want any more. It is easy to find them working as gas station attendants or cleaning the streets in poor neighborhoods, such as Los Nogales, in the city's central region, one of the places they chose to settled down.

The Chilean government estimates that there are some 9,000 Haitians living in the country today. In Brazil, the number reaches 45,000.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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