April 28, 2020 / 7:53 PM / a month ago

Bolivia, Chile strike deal to return stranded Bolivian migrants home

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile and Bolivia agreed on Tuesday to allow several hundred Bolivians stranded in a makeshift tent camp in Santiago to quarantine for 14 days and then return home, Chile’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Bolivian citizens, stranded in Chile after the border was closed as preventive measure, gather on the street outside a Bolivian consular office during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Santiago, Chile April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Large groups of Bolivians, toting bulging suitcases, had pitched tents near their country’s consulate in a leafy, upscale suburb of the Chilean capital, flouting a nighttime curfew and social-distancing rules.

The foreign ministers of both countries agreed the migrants should be transported to Iquique, a coastal desert city nearer to Bolivia in northern Chile, and then allowed to return home following isolation.

“For us, it is important that people who have come to work in Chile ... can return to their countries as quickly as possible, and in good condition,” said Chile’s foreign minister, Teodoro Ribera. “Coronavirus doesn’t recognize borders.”

Bolivian migrants have been gathering in Chile for several weeks after Bolivia tightened its border shortly after the outbreak hit the region.

Some Bolivians, out of work as Chile’s economy has sputtered, had already returned home after completing quarantine following an earlier deal between the two countries.

Chilean officials worried that growing numbers of Bolivians gathered in the Providencia neighborhood of Santiago would soon pose a health risk.

Evelyn Matthei, the mayor of Providencia, warned of a humanitarian crisis.

Though Providencia is not under quarantine, other parts of Santiago, a city of 6 million, are under lockdown, with rules in place prevent gatherings of more than 50 people.

Cool, late fall weather has settled on the Southern Hemisphere city, leaving the Bolivians exposed to frigid night time temperatures.

Health Undersecretary Paula Daza said Chile had supplied the migrants with essentials during their stay in Santiago.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Natalia Ramos in Santiago; Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis

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