United Methodist Committee on Relief

Chile: City Welcomes and Walks With Newcomers

UMCOR supports Iglesia Metodista de Chile in providing access to basic services for Arica’s migrant population.
Pictured above is the dramatically located crossroads city of Arica, northern Chile, where the Methodist Church of Chile partners with the Migrant Care Center, supported by UMCOR.

By David Tereshchuk *

August 20, 2013—Arica is Chile’s most northerly city and sits dramatically positioned on the great bend in South America’s Pacific coastline known as the “Arica Elbow.” It is a port city, of course, and by land it is only 120 miles from the Bolivian border—and then hardly any distance at all (just 11 miles) from Chile’s other immediate neighbor, Peru. 

Situated at such a crossroads, Arica has a substantial migrant community—with newcomers arriving to make just temporary use of the city as a way station toward work opportunities further south. Many others remain in and around Arica, finding work when they can in the region’s extensive agricultural sector.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) recently awarded a grant to the Methodist of Church of Chile (Iglesia Metodista de Chile, or IMECH) for its work in support of Arica’s migrant population, in partnership with the Migrant Care Center in Arica (Centro de Atención al Migrante, or CAMI).

The aim is to provide help for the most vulnerable persons in the migrant community. Many of the agricultural workers live in makeshift homes clustered together in informal camps. There they experience severely limited access to basic services, and, consequently, these migrants form the main focus of CAMI’s work.

The program supports migrants and their families in ways that enable them to integrate more fully into the population as a whole and helps the families, in a very practical fashion, to gain better access to the services they so badly need. 

There has been a shortage, too, of legal services for this vulnerable segment of Arica’s population, so providing legal protection for those without Chilean citizenship and those with other problems of documentation and civil rights, is a priority. Migrants also are encouraged to organize themselves into self-help groups.

In addition, CAMI and IMECH are using their UMCOR support to engage with institutional and community networks in purposefully improving the migrant population’s social protections in the areas of health, education, and the all-too-difficult business of finding work.

While the program’s main target are the families living in two informal camps on the outskirts of Arica City, the partners nevertheless are careful also to embrace migrants who are transiting through Arica as well as those who choose not to join the existing camp-dwellers, and set up homes on their own.

Toward those ends, CAMI arranges workshops on the rights new migrants in Chile possess and how they can be can fully exercised. The organization also has been working to build awareness in official circles—in government and local non-government institutions—about migrants’ needs and rights.

And to ensure that as few people as possible “fall through the cracks” of service provision, CAMI will supply individual case-management, with staff and volunteers working attentively to accompany migrant families on their challenging journey of making a new life in a new country.

Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will help vulnerable communities around the world like the migrant families of Arica, Chile.

* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to

Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will help vulnerable communities around the world like the migrant families of Arica, Chile.