Since mid-January, the Chilean Armed Forces have had a new role: countering human trafficking and migrant smuggling, a growing regional problem.
On January 12, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera signed a decree that enables support of the Armed Forces in border control to combat illegal migration. This decree expands a law passed in August 2019 (Decree 265), facilitating military support to police forces in the fight against narcotrafficking and transnational organized crime, through their logistics, transport, and technology elements.
“Given the nature and length of the borders in the north, […] to be able to fulfill that mission, we need greater collaboration from the Armed Forces,” Piñera said.
According to Chilean Minister of Defense Baldo Prokurica, “it is essential to have tools to confront the illegal migration phenomenon, since all indicators point to the fact that it will likely continue to grow.”
“The Armed Forces have technology to warn law enforcement forces that somewhere along this vast, long border, there are people trying to get in. Secondly, they can retain a person to bring them to the police and, in addition, provide any intelligence that they routinely carry out, so that we’ll have better results in collaboration with the police,” the minister said.
On January 23, Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrés Allamand announced a diplomatic, legal, and police offensive to stop migrant smuggling in the country, the Chilean government said on its website.
“It’s a crime that affects people’s human rights. Those who are part of this trafficking process are continually in an exposed and highly defenseless situation,” Allamand said.
The initiative includes collaborating with the prosecutors of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to investigate and sanction these crimes; coordinating and cooperating with the police forces from these countries; and adopting urgent international agreements to combat this scourge.
According to the Chilean newspaper El Mostrador, data from the Investigative Brigade of Human Trafficking, part of Chile’s Investigations Police (PDI, in Spanish), show that, from 2017 to 2019, victims of this type of crime increased by 1,300 percent, with sexual and labor exploitation as the most common causes. During 2020, the PDI recorded 13,656 clandestine entries to the country, the highest number since 2018, the Chilean newspaper Semana reported.
According to a press release from the Ministry of Defense, since the implementation of Decree 265 until mid-January 2021, 1,800 military operations have been carried out on the borders with 17,000 troops deployed. The operations, the statement says, have been technological in nature, with human and optronic means, to facilitate day and night detection of illegal activities.