[Bolivia] This is not an advertising slogan, more or less attractive, provocative. It is a where we believe that it is necessary to find a place to better serve Christ in the poor… The Mission “To be at the Frontier”, is an Exciting, Prophetic reality that we have been living for approximately 3 years at one of the borders of Bolivia and Chile: Colchane, Pisiga.
1. – Exciting because we serve the most deprived and vulnerable on the earth: those without homes, money, and family, discriminated against and rejected simply because they are African-American Colombians.
We are located in the Pampa, where no crops grow because the earth is arid, saline and inhospitable. Located 3,800 meters above sea level, in winter (summer for Europe) at night the temperatures descend to between minus 10º to -20º. During the day it might possibly rise to 8º to 10º. With the wind at 70 Km/h, you frequently cannot go outside.
General services are poor. It is a rare day we don’t suffer a blackout because of hurricane winds, and the same happens with phone or internet lines. Water is rationed, having it only some hours per day. As our house is on the second floor, the water pressure is poor so we have to carry water in buckets for the kitchen and bathroom. We have to hand wash the sheets in an adjacent patio lent by our neighbours.
Our service is divided in three phases: Prevention, Promotion and Insertion…
– Prevention: Being in the border area, migrants who are rejected at the border are easy “prey” for the “coyotes”, taking advantage of their situation of inexperience in a foreign country. In their state of vulnerability and abandonment they enter easily into “human trafficking.”
We come out to the Frontier to welcome all people rejected at the border of Colchane, offering them information, advice and guidance as to the risks of trying to enter through an “illegal passage,” avoiding falling into human trafficking, prostitution, stealing or delinquency. To enter through non authorised ways can lead to labour exploitation, threats, coercion or deceit.
We denounce immigration officials through Public or Private Institutions (such as INDH1, INCAMI2, PMH3, DDP4) for abuse of power, outrageous criteria for regular entrance to the country, racial or national discrimination, bribery, non-protection of women and children, etc.
– Promotion: All the actions we carry out are guided for their promotion, from the information that we gather in the first interview up to the learning workshops. Workshop topics include house cleaning, technical and interpersonal relationships, learning how to live in an intercultural environment, relaxation techniques, judicial and human rights advice, how to legally enter Chile, advocating for their rights as migrants and refugee applicants, administration and activation of documents. We also share prayers.
– Social integration: The majority of people who enter Chile through official channels get integrated into the labour force, since all the migrants who pass through our Centre have siblings who are waiting for them with a work contract. Chile, through the Mercosur Agreement, is a country where, if one enters with a Tourist Visa, the following day they can have a work contract. Through coordination and follow up we have been able to verify that most immigrants who passed through our Centre, who have been rejected one or more times, have been able to pass through official channels and have achieved their dream.
Most people passing through our Centre are African-American Colombians. They come from very depressed and impoverished areas, and most are forced to leave so as to escape from the armed conflict that has lasted there for more than 40 years. For this reason a significant number of African-American Colombians coming from the area Buenaventura are Refuge Applicants.
Our Welcome Centre has the capacity for 12 people, but from January until June we have welcomed more than 1.000 people, without counting those who stay just for a while to recover from the cold until returning to another city. Sometimes we have been overcrowded and we have had to welcome people to sleep in the floor, because they were not received in other lodgings because they were African-Americans.
2. – Prophetic: Because we risk “all for all”, recognise their Human rights and speak against exploitation and violation of the poor, denounce to the competent authorities everything that mutilates, oppresses and blocks their way to life we are conscious that we are annoying to many immigration officials of Bolivia and Chile. God has placed us at the Frontier to work with audacity, to announce the needs of poor persons, so they have life and life in abundance. Even if we suffer rejection and abuse we do not stop in our zeal until we see they are respected and treated as people, as Children of God, with dignity and decency.
For us, to be prophetic is an urgent call to generosity, justice and radical interiority as indispensable elements of our being in the presence of God and working in the style of Jesus of Nazareth.