April 28, 2020 / 7:54 PM / a month ago

Bolivians stranded in Chile camp out at consulate in Santiago

SANTIAGO, April 28 (Reuters) - Several hundred Bolivians have set up camp on a sidewalk near the Andean nation’s consulate in the Chilean capital Santiago, authorities said Tuesday, awaiting approval to return home as the coronavirus pandemic ravages much of South America.

The Bolivians, touting large, multi-colored suitcases, had pitched tents and spent the night there despite a nationwide, night-time curfew in place since March. Many failed to observe social distance guidelines.

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

Evelyn Matthei, mayor of Providencia, the leafy, upscale neighborhood of Santiago where the migrants have gathered, pleaded with Bolivia to intervene, calling the situation a humanitarian crisis.

“We urgently and desperately ask President Jeanine Anez of Bolivia to please ... allow them to return to their country, because that is what they want,” Matthei said.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, ousted in 2019, criticized the government’s response, saying on Twitter the consulate “remained closed, and was not helping” the nearly 300 men, women and children gathered there.

Chilean health officials said they worried the growing group of Bolivians could present a health risk.

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’s foreign ministry was working with its Bolivian counterpart to find a solution.

“They are being given basic supplies to support themselves, but we hope to have a quick response from the Bolivian government so that they can return and be with their families in Bolivia,” Daza said.

Some Bolivian migrants have recently returned home after completing quarantine in Chile following a deal between the two countries. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Richard Chang)

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