SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean police have dismantled a crime ring that helped smuggle hundreds of children of Haitian migrants, sometimes without their parents, from Chile north to Mexico and the United States, Interpol said on Monday.
The transnational group orchestrated a complex, cross-border network that smuggled an estimated 1,000 Haitian migrants out of Chile, including 267 Chilean children under the age of six, all born to Haitian migrants, according to the global police co-ordination agency.
Some of the children, police said, were not traveling with their real parents, while others were found abandoned or their parents had died en route.
“It is horrifying to think what these vulnerable children, some just a few years old, have suffered,” said Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock.
The harsh realities of migration in Latin America have come under the spotlight recently after thousands of Haitian migrants formed a large impromptu border camp at the Mexican-U.S. border. Some have been flown back to Haiti, while others are waiting to have their cases for asylum heard in the United States or remain scattered across Latin America seeking refuge.
Many of the Haitian migrants had initially settled in South American countries like Chile and Brazil, where some say they had difficulty finding work and experienced racism. Protests in Chile have flared in recent weeks against Venezuelan migrants who have set up camps in city squares and even beaches.
Their home nation of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has been battered by political crises and natural disasters.
The smuggling ring promoted their services to Haitians via messaging service WhatsApp, Interpol said, then helped to covertly transport migrants into Peru from Chile, after which they embarked on their journey north.
Chilean police arrested nine suspects involved in the operation, including four Chileans, two Venezuelans, one Peruvian, one Haitian and one Paraguayan.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)