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Forced displacement and refugees

Refugee Camp, Iquique, Chile, December 2022

I am on the plane travelling from Santiago de Chile back to Panama City. I am tired, as the mission to Chile proved to be hectic. The trip involved a great deal of travelling between various camps and refugee centres in Santiago and its surroundings, but also in Iquique in the northern part of the country. As you can imagine, I carried out dozens of interviews with the refugees, and held many meetings with authorities and humanitarian practitioners. All very interesting but also draining. I guess, it is fair that I am not just physically tired, but emotionally exhausted. The situation of the asylum seekers who arrive to the country is complicated, and at times hopeless. More often than not, when people finally manage to cross Chilean borders (after walking for thousands of kilometres across parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), are sick from weeks of maltreatment, abuse, hunger and exhaustion. Stories that one hears are heartbreaking and frankly inhumenly cruel, shaking the belief of existence of goodness of any kind. Rape, humiliation, death of friends/family members, physical abuse, robberies appear to be reality of essentially all people I talked to. Yet, when they reach Chile, what is waiting for them is far from a rosy and comfortable future. Instead of peace of mind, people need to deal with xenophobia, lack of access to basic services, irregular migration status, poor work prospects and a very high likelihood of extreme poverty. Arriving refugees, perhaps are not sent back home, but are not allowed to regularise their residency and right to work either, and hence, remain highly vulnerable to abuse and destitution. Listening to horrific experiences of so many, and realising how dramatic their lives are likely to be, made me feel angry, powerless, and eventually wore me off. My disgust was even stronger, as the experiences and stories of forced displacement of Dominicans of Haitian descent to Haiti are still fresh in my mind, after my recent emergency mission to the Dominican Republic. All in all, somehow, I am not in a particular Christmas cheer mood, really. I realise I need to recover fast, and put my new experience to work for some positive change, rather than feeling miserable. This is going to be my main task for next few days!

On a much better note, I am really pleased to let you know that I have been selected to serve as the Head of Office for ECHO in Venezuela based in Caracas. There is still some administrative fine tuning to be done, but if all goes well as of August 2023, I will be moving to Venezuela for 4 years. Very, very exciting news!

I will still write before the end of 2022, so the Christmas and New Years wishes will come a bit later.

Sending you all my best regards!