The odyssey of illegal migrants to reach the 'Chilean dream'


The sun sets in a straight line on a shadowless plateau. Breathing ragged by the 3,650 meters high, Anyier tries to recover sitting on the side of the road: seven hours ago she crossed into Chile on foot from Bolivia, her fifth border since leaving Venezuela.

"This has been the most difficult, horrible thing," says this 40-year-old former employee of the Siderúrgica Nacional (Sidetur), who on January 25 undertook the journey of more than 5,000 km together with Reinaldo, a 26-year-old barber, and her daughter, Danyierly, 14. They left Guatire, a Caracas suburb, with $ 350 and a backpack with just enough.

Like this family, badly burned by the sun and with split lips, dozens of young people from Venezuelan cities such as Barinas, Maracaibo, Apure and Maturín advance along the mountain road towards the Atacama desert, in northern Chile. All without exception ask for water. They have been on a long march for days, months or weeks that has involved them crossing the borders of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

"They don't want to give us any water," laments Ramsés, a man from Merida whose goal is to get to a friend in Rancagua - south of Santiago - where he is expected to work in an agricultural field.

Anyier and his family stopped at the edge of the road after 25 kilometers walking without anyone to offer them help in an area that was mostly trafficked by cargo trucks and lately taxi drivers and other people who seek to get money to take them.

"A taxi driver stopped to ask us if we had papers, and when we said that we were Venezuelans, he made fun of us, and sped up," Anyier told AFP, hurt to tears.
After crossing the border post very early, "we got into a truck to be brought to Iquique or to Huara, but they told us no, they were not going to reach out to the Venezuelans," says Reinaldo, who affirms that Bolivian and Cuban migrants were transferred.

Below zero

If during the day the sun is unbearable, with gusts of wind capable of moving a truck, at night “the cold is below zero”, the mayor of Colchane, Javier García, tells AFP.

In this commune of 1,700 inhabitants, one of the 10 poorest in Chile, they affirm that since January they have experienced "a migratory phenomenon and humanitarian crisis never seen in the region. They count three official deaths: a Colombian woman, a baby and a 69-year-old Venezuelan. The two adults "died of cold, hypothermia," says a soldier in Colchane.

“ For months we have been able to see crude, inhuman images of people arriving at dawn at sub-zero temperatures, -8 or -10, crying with hunger, and sometimes without money, ”describes the mayor, who also mentions the cultural clash of migrants with the Aymara (the majority in this area), reserved people who feel confronted with daring attitudes and noisy from some walkers.

About 40 km from Colchane, a 26-year-old is paralyzed on the road, covered with old blankets, wearing thin clothes and beach sandals with socks. He babbles that his name is Alexánder and that he comes from Carúpano, a coastal city 500 km from Caracas. He cries because he can't feel his hands.

"It's that he can't handle the cold," clarifies his friend before lying on his back to warm him with a hug.

"Come on, kid, go ahead," he says. Static, both are excited, while two more friends, all between 23 and 26 years old, throw their blankets and backpack into a drain on the side of the road , to see if they can protect themselves to sleep.