In response to an impasse of several weeks on the border between Chile and Bolivia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged on Wednesday the countries of Latin America and other parts of the world to open the borders their own citizens who are stranded abroad, many of whom lack access to healthcare and other basic services.
“Under international law, everyone has the right to return to their country of origin, even during a pandemic,” said the High Commissioner, and called on the governments of the region to do everything possible to ensure safe, dignified return. and voluntary of its citizens, as well as their sustainable reincorporation into society.
“When migrants want to return home voluntarily, governments have an obligation to receive them and to ensure that they have access to health care and other rights,” said Bachelet. “If governments fail to do so, they place migrants in situations of extreme vulnerability, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In general terms, it is the poorest migrants who try to return home across land borders after being deprived of their income due to confinement measures, who are prevented from returning. ”
“Governments should include all migrants, regardless of their immigration status, in the prevention, response and recovery plans of COVID-19 and should ensure that they have equitable access to information, tests, and care. health and social protection ”, added the High Commissioner.
Bachelet praised the cooperation and measures taken by Chile and Bolivia to solve the impasse in which the return of Bolivian citizens was, which began when the pandemic affected their livelihoods in Chile and Bolivia closed its borders on March 26 . As a result of these events, some 1,300 Bolivians – including the elderly, children and pregnant women – who were trying to return to their country were stranded on the Chilean side of the border, where hundreds of them had to sleep outside, with little water and food, and with temperatures below zero degrees centigrade.
“That didn’t have to have happened,” said Bachelet. “This situation demonstrates the importance that countries can anticipate these problems or solve them quickly, in order to avoid unnecessary suffering.”
On April 12 and 13, the Chilean authorities transported some 800 Bolivian migrants from Colchane to the regional capital of Iquique, where they installed them in schools and provided them with access to health care and other basic services. On April 13, another group of about 200 Bolivians arrived in Iquique.
The government announced that by the end of the week, about half of those migrants would be transferred from Iquique to Pisiga, a camp set up on the Bolivian side of the border, where a United Nations team, which includes several staff members de Bachelet, have assisted local authorities and humanitarian actors in the provision of basic services for migrants, assessing their needs and reinforcing their protection. The rest of the migrants are expected to be transferred directly from Iquique to their homes in Bolivia, at the end of the mandatory 14-day quarantine required by the Bolivian authorities.
Given the prospect that hundreds of other Bolivian migrants will try to cross the borders of different countries in the days to come back to their homes, it is essential that state and local authorities guarantee them a safe return to their places of origin and help them reintegrate in their communities.
Migrants who have tried to cross the borders in other parts of the region to return home have suffered similar problems, and some of those who have managed to return have been subjected to hostility, discrimination and even acts of violence.
“It saddens me to see that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing stigmatization and discrimination, both between and within States, in many regions of the world,” said Bachelet. “People who have contracted the disease need medical attention, not victims of hatred and rejection. All countries, both origin and destination, have an obligation to respect, protect and guarantee the human rights of migrants. Migrants returning to their country of origin should be included in national response, social protection and recovery strategies, without any discrimination, and should be protected from stigmatization and marginalization, both in the public sphere and in the private”.