A view from my quarantine hotel, Santiago, Chile, October 2021
For some reason the quarantine in Santiago has proved to be more difficult (emotionally) than I expected. It felt like it was a very long week, but luckily, today is the last day of my 'detention', and I will be able to move around as of tomorrow.
While being under my lock-down, I tried keeping myself busy. Except getting acquainted with documents and reports relating to the migration crisis in the north of the country, I have been busy studying Portuguese for my language exam. I also did watch quite a lot of Netflix movies, and did some plans for my next holiday!
You might be interested to know that at the beginning of November, I will be travelling to Toronto for 10 days, so that I can visit friends (including Tahir), and enjoy a bit of Canadian autumn. This should be lots of fun, and I am looking forward to this a great deal!
But before the Canadian adventure becomes a reality, I am still here in Chile. On Saturday, I am flying to the town of Arica (border with Peru), and then will be driving southwards to Iquique and finally to Antofagasta, visiting places where Venezuelan and Haitian migrants enter the country or gather during their journey to their desired destinations. After reaching Antofagasta, I will fly back to Santiago, so that I have my final debriefings before returning to Panama City.
Whenever I have a chance, I will update you on what I see, and I will try to post some pictures too.
Antofagasta, Chile, March 2021
Here comes my recent newsletter sent out to friends by email. Hope you enjoy it.
This time around, I am writing to you from above Ecuador, en-route from Panama City to Santiago. I am travelling to Chile, for a short visit to get more in-depths on the ongoing migrant crisis in the northern part of the country.
You may be aware that one of the most severe humanitarian calamities in the Americas is related to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, which produces millions of its citizens fleeing to other countries in search of safety and better lives. As Chile enjoys relative stability and economic prosperity, it is also attracting a substantial number of refugees, who would like to settle and build their future there. Yet, as in many parts of the world, Chile has become less accessible and willing to accept refugees, which in turn have turned into a precarious and dangerous conditions for thousands of people who try entering the country from Bolivia and Peru.
As the flight between the two cities is quite long, and there are not many passengers near me, I enjoy quite a lot of space around me, and indeed some free time, so I thought that I was going to write an update on the latest developments.
First, I should report you that things have been much better when it comes to issues related to COVID. Luckily, I seem to have recovered completely from the disease and I do not seem to have any longer side effects of it, despite of all the drama that I went through last year. Like many of you, I guess, I have now managed to get my vaccines, which I hope keep me and those around me a little bit safer. A fact that I have my vaccination certificates facilitate my work substantially. Despite lots of restrictions being in place in various parts of the world, I am now able to travel to projects that I oversee (as proved by my current trip to Chile) and follow them as I used to before the pandemic. This makes me happy on a personal level (yes, I still love my work 😉), but also hopefully brings a much higher quality of my service, as getting the first-hand information on what happens in the field, by far allows you understand lots of humanitarian sensitivities that reading reports from other organisations can’t provide you. Except for Chile, my recent professional dealings (already after COVID erupted) brought me to Argentina (Indigenous Population crisis in the north of the country), Honduras (response to a hurricane), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (response to a volcano eruption).
Recently, I also managed to travel to Europe for holidays. Some weeks ago, I returned from Portugal and Poland, where I spent nearly 1 month. This was an amazing trip, during which I managed to meet many of my friends, and my family, but also successfully obtained my dreamt permanent residency in Portugal! When in Poland, an exciting (however emotional) experience was meeting my Afghan work colleagues who had just been evacuated from Kabul two weeks earlier (some of them were offered a resettlement to Poland). It was really special to meet them and listen to their dramatic account of their hardship during the evacuation from Kabul, and also distressful learning about their sorrows, and indeed worries of what their lives may look like in a new, and strange to them country, without understanding its rules, culture or language. I am trying to ensure that I support them the best way I can from distance, but it is quite challenging, given the language limitations (we do not have a common language, and need to communicate with a help of an interpreter or a translator).
I keep enjoying my work and life in Panama. My Spanish is good enough to offer me opportunities to get to know new people and gives a new quality to friendships that I already have had for a while. Some of you may be interested to learn that all migrant families that some of us have supported financially during the lockdown are all well. Now, we managed to ensure that all have work (even if not completely stable), and that means that they do have income to cover the daily necessities. Now the challenge is to find ways to pay their huge debts that they had accumulated during the time when they had no jobs (debts arising from not being able to pay for their accommodation, electricity bills, etc.). Sadly, as they make just enough to survive, the dues are likely to ‘enslave’ them (literally) for years to come, as they are simply unable to save money (sad reality for most of poor migrants, not only in Panama, I am sure). So, as I have decided to officially end the support project that many of you participated, I am still working with our friends to help them repay their liabilities (some of you decided to carry on helping with it too, for which our friends and I are very grateful). Here, once again, I would like to thank you all for responding to positively to those who needed your help!
You may be interested to read that last week I went to see the laryngologist or an ear-doctor, if you prefer. My hearing problems have been giving me lots of misery in my private and professional life. With a little push from some of you, I got my courage to go for tests. It was a long affair, as I spent with my doctor (really friendly) nearly three hours. She made dozens of various tests and came to a conclusion that my hearing is indeed relatively bad. With all sound frequencies that we tested and humans normally perceive, I was below the average in all of pitches. The best I could score was 80% of normal hearing, but then some frequencies I was not able to hear at all (0 – 10% of normal hearing), while other pitches were between 40 – 60% of the healthy hearing, with my left ear being slightly better than the right one. The doctor told me that she was very surprised it took me so much time to decide to do these tests and suggested that ‘I might have lost lots of amazing experiences’ by not being able to hear properly. She however told me that she was impressed I learnt Spanish well despite my relative deafness! The visit ended up with a test of some hearing aid (it was 30 minutes of the ‘near crying (for me) experience, where I felt like the whole world was full of wonderful sounds that I can’t hear). The next steps now are getting approvals for the purchase of my hearing aid from my insurance company (these apparatuses are really expensive, mind you), and if all goes smoothly, I should be able to collect and start using them on my return to Panama from Chile at the end of the month. I am really excited, and I hope all will go well with the insurance indeed! Keep your fingers crossed!
Finally, I should mention that in months to come, I will be trying to arrange for a meeting with Tahir (either by visiting him in Toronto, or by bringing him over for a visit to Panama). You will be pleased to know he is well and happy and soon be able to apply to become a citizen of Canada!
Talking of citizenships, I will soon be taking my Portuguese language exam, so that I can apply to become a citizen of Portugal as well, as my path to the citizenship application opens on 26th February 2022. In case you wonder, the plan is to keep the Polish citizenship, but acquiring the one of Portugal, which from my perspective makes lots of sense, given a fact that I now I have a bit of my own space there.
This email is becoming slightly too long now, so I will stop.
It is needless to write that I look forward to hearing from you, and sending you my warmest greetings and lots and lots of love,
As the situation of the refugees and asylum seekers gets worse, I am now preparing for a trip to the country so that together with partners working on issues of migrants, we could strategise on what is it the we could do to adjust our operations to protect the most vulnerable better.
If all goes according to plan, I should be travelling to Santiago on 7th October. I will then need to be quarantined for 5 days, and then once this is done, we should travel to various locations in the country (especially in the north), where large groups of migrants arrive and live.
As usual, I shall report on the findings, as the mission goes on.