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Prejudices Erode in Chilean Floods as Colombian Immigrants Mount a Relief Effort

Categories: Latin America, Chile, Colombia, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Disaster, Good News, Humanitarian Response, Migration & Immigration

Parts of of Chile were flooded by torrential rains. Veoverde.com. (Published under a reuse license.)

In recent years, various communities of Colombian immigrants, who left their country in search of better opportunities, have gathered together in northern Chile. Initially, these migrants came to Chile attracted by the image of political stability, the country's economic growth, and the promises of the lucrative mining industry. For others, the relentless violence that hounded many areas in Colombia was what drove them away. Many of these migrants found some measure of economic stability and personal security in their new homes, but they've also faced discrimination from people prejudiced against Colombians in general and African descendants in particular.

Some Chileans say Colombian immigrants are responsible for an increase in crime, and symbolic acts against Colombians have become more prominent. Large anti-immigrant rallies [2] in the city of Antofagasta are just one example.

Following clashes between immigrants and locals, Global Voices together with other media outlets organized a Google Hangout [3] on March 13 to discuss the exodus of Colombian nationals to Antofagasta. The event included personal testimonies by Colombian migrants in Chile, and comments by experts on migration in the region, and journalists who closely follow these stories.

The worst storm in the past 80 years recently struck northern Chile, particularly damaging the cities of Atacama [4] and Antofagasta [5], where torrential rains caused the River Copiapó to spill its banks. While locals tried to cope with the floodwaters and mud that covered the roads, houses, and bridges, groups of Colombian migrants attracted significant public attention by organizing an efficient relief effort. Online, people shared images of Colombian volunteers shoveling mud and clearing the roads, wearing the shirts of their national football team, and pitching in where ever their help was needed.

On Facebook, Maite Vanessa Castro, a woman originally from Cali, Colombia, and now resident in Copiapó [6], shared photos [7] on of the work.

Meanwhile, some people on the scene in the flood-affected areas said Colombian volunteers, not the Chilean authorities, were ”the first to arrive” and offer assistance:

The Colombian immigrants collaborating in Copiapo. These are the photos.

[Brothers] Colombian immigrants organize themselves in order to help those affected in Copiapó.

Many online said the images should bring the public to reconsider how it views immigrants.

For those who think ALL immigrants are delinquents, the images of Colombians in #Copiapó [16] are incredible silencers.

Here are the Colombian brothers helping to clear the streets in Copiapó. To think that for some they are a problem

Change your attitude, here are ‘those Colombian shits’ helping to clear the streets

Some Chileans made a point of expressing their appreciation for the volunteer work by the Colombian community:

#Copiapo [21] Colombian immigrants. My respect.

I don't expect less from Cachacos and Corronchos. Colombia, you're close to my heart and I know of your worth and solidarity. Bah! Latin Americans

Let's fill this country with Colombians!

This post was written in collaboration with Global Voices author Robert Valencia [28].