Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Civil Society Organizations’ Challenges to the Global Migration Regime in the City of Iquique, Chile


Marielena Groos


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Marielena Groos. Marielena is a Social Worker and holds a Master’s degree in Social Policies and Socio-Community Intervention from the University of A Coruña, Spain and a Master’s degree in International Migration and Intercultural Relations from the University of Osnabrück (IMIS), Germany. Her Master Thesis was entitled ‘Solidary and Collective Practices of Resistance - How civil society organizations challenge the migration system in the city of Iquique, Chile’. This blog post is based on her master’s thesis, which she defended in September 2022.

When studying migration in the Chilean context (e.g. see work by Canales; Dufarix, Ramos & Quinteros; Ramos & Tapia) it is unavoidable to consider the regional capital city of the Tarapacá region, Iquique in the extreme north, since it has become the scene of a new migration phenomenon in South America. Its main elements are the current ever increasing Venezuelan diaspora, the pre-pandemic border securitization measures under the global paradigm of migration control, as well as the closing of border crossings legitimized by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as many migration scholars have shown, restrictive measures are not able to stop immigration altogether but instead promote the precarization of migration routes and migrant’s lives (see work by Concha Villanueva). As a result, an increase in unauthorized border crossings, smuggling, and human trafficking have been registered in Chile, with the Tarapacá region as a cross-border area, representing a regional focus in the national context.

A fenced border area with a lot of litter
Picture of a path of an unauthorized border crossing of the international border between Colchane and Pisiga Bolívar (Photo by the author)

Iquique plays an important role in this respect. On September 24th 2021, Plaza Brasil, where many migrants were sleeping due to a lack of (state-provided) accommodation facilities, and difficulties in continuing their journey, was violently raided by the police. The following day, an anti-migrant demonstration took place in the city, with 3,000 people participating and hate speech being broadcast in the media and on the streets. Furthermore, on January 30th, 2022, about 4,000 people protested against ‘criminals’ and ‘illegal migration’ and attacked the property of migrants and a Venezuelan man who had to be protected by national police. In addition to racist and xenophobic attacks, the failure to control migration at the Colchane-Pisiga border crossing with Bolivia was of particular concern among protesters.

People protesting holding protest signs

Against this context, numerous actions and initiatives have been launched in solidarity with those afflicted, which involve different actors and organizations of the local civil society, challenging the migration regime at the local level. My research on how local pro-migrant CSOs challenge the migration regime at the local level in Iquique led me to identify several collective practices of resistance from below that are carried out in solidarity with migrants affected in the region. These practices of resistance are:

Intervention in the Political Scene by directly intervening in local political discourses and practices through running for candidatures to political posts, assuming leadership roles, engaging in politics, and submitting laws, proposals, and norms.  

Resisting Governmental Absence which can be categorized as humanitarian aid such as providing housing, food supply, and support with onward travel.

Supporting Acts of Citizenship by providing information about the legal system and offering legal, psychological, and sexual reproduction consultations. In addition, judicial-administrative representation and resisting administrative deportations were identified as resistance practices.

Resisting ‘irregularity’ and ‘exploitability’ by intervening in situations of exploitation by unofficial transfer agencies that wanted to make a profit out of migrants’ precarious situation, selling people overpriced tickets with the promise of taking them to the Chilean capital, Santiago, which however was not fulfilled.

Everyday Practices of Resistance by holding educational workshops for the public but also through knowledge transfer workshops among the CSOs.

Initially, these resistance practices of individual CSOs were widely dispersed, but similar in terms of time, place, and objective, leading to the formation of an intensive solidarity network and collective resistance practices.

Beyond the identification of these practices of resistance, my research shows that the types of resistance have different transformative effects: (1) at the political level by intervening in regulations and rights, (2) at the legal level in terms of protecting denied human and legal rights, (3) in terms of access to denied social resources such as housing and food supplies, and (4) at the symbolic level through a shift in public opinion and in political and public discourses. Thus, all types of resistance have the potential to impact migration policies in terms of the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion and the resulting conditions for migrants, highlighting that CSOs play a key role in challenging the migration regime at the local level.

However, by focusing on the capacity of CSOs to challenge the migration regime, it became clear that the criminalization of solidarity, which is already common practice in Europe and the United States, for example in the Mediterranean region and the Arizona desert, can also be observed as a new development in Chile and represents a new tool for governmental migration control.

My research shows, that discrediting and delegitimization in public and political discourse and legal prosecution, have been the most apparent forms of criminalization of solidarity in the city of Iquique. In this regard, the legal ground for the criminalization of solidarity is the implementation of a new law in 2022, which criminalizes aiding or abetting entry and transit in which the profit motive is no longer necessary to justify an administrative sanction. Even though this development is recent, it affects the work of CSOs and the life of their members in different ways (e.g., job loss, obstacles in carrying out activities, physical attacks).

By referring to the concept of crimmigration which emphasizes the development of the merging of immigration and criminal law, it can be shown that different categories of laws become governmental instruments used to manage mobility through control. Yet, the rise of crimmigration as an expression of a culture of control and repression permeates not only the legal systems but also politics, public discourses, and social practices. Using this theoretical approach, I show that the criminalization of solidarity and humanitarian aid as a new instrument of governmental migration control in Chile is part of a broader development toward crimmigration control in Chile (see work by Brandariz, Dufraix & Quinteros), which is primarily directed against migrants, but - as a new development - also against people who show solidarity with migrants. However, this criminalization of solidarity also makes it clear that CSOs are challenging the migration regime at the local level and resisting the system of migration control from below, thus becoming targets of migration control themselves.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

M. Groos. (2023) Civil Society Organizations’ Challenges to the Global Migration Regime in the City of Iquique, Chile. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/02/civil-society-organizations-challenges-global-migration. Accessed on: 23/06/2024

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