Chile Joins Immigration Hardliners With About-Face on U.N Treaty

(Bloomberg) -- President Sebastian Pinera is making good on a promise to crack down on illegal immigration to Chile as he backed out of a migration treaty at the last minute over the past weekend.

The Chilean government confirmed Monday that it would no longer sign the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, which was backed by more than 150 countries. Initially one of the treaty’s proponents, Chile’s about-face means it joins a list of about a dozen countries, including the U.S., Hungary and Poland, characterized recently by a wave of anti-immigration rhetoric.

An influx of immigrants from neighboring nations including Venezuela and Haiti in recent years has prompted Pinera to adopt tighter migration policies. Earlier this year the government modified visa requirements making it tougher for migrants to come to Chile.

An estimated 700,000 migrants have entered the Andean nation from 2015 to 2017. While the flow has slowed since Pinera imposed the new measures, immigrants account for 5.9 percent of Chile’s 18 million inhabitants, with a majority recently coming from Venezuela.

Minister of Foreign Relations Roberto Ampuero defended the decision on Monday, saying to reporters that Chile’s doors are still open to legal migration but the country won’t agree to anything that’s not in its sovereign interests. Interior undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla said that Chile respects human rights but that there isn’t a human right to migrate.

Countries choosing to abstain are forming an unspoken club of those putting a barrier on immigration for different reasons, says Robert Funk, a political analyst in Chile.

"Chile’s choice signals an important change in its foreign policy and is a political statement that Pinera is veering toward policy that appeases an electorate that has been leaning more towards the right," Funk said.

It’s not the first time this year that Chile backs out from a treaty at the last minute. In September the Pinera government said it wouldn’t sign the Escazu treaty on access to information, public participation and justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chile and Costa Rica had initially presented the treaty.

Ricardo Lagos Weber, an opposition senator who heads a congressional foreign affairs committee, told reporters that he summoned Ampuero to explain what he called a "closed-door" decision.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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