In 1973, Augusto Pinochet successfully led a military coup in Chile, removing Allende and his Socialist government from power. For many years, Pinochet ruled as a military dictator over the South American country, which forced many citizens to become Chilean refugees. Many Chileans sought asylum in countries such as Britain, Sweden and Canada.
10 facts about Chilean Refugees
- Repression forced Chileans to flee. Pinochet replaced the liberal government with a right-wing dictatorship. His vicious regime kidnapped, tortured and killed nearly 13,000 citizens, which forced many Chileans to flee.
- Canada initially did not want to accept Chilean Refugees. Pressure from churches and local organizations, however, forced the government to change its aid policies. This approach differed from that of the Swedish ambassador who accepted refugees without hesitation.
- Chileans entered Canada soon after the violent coup in 1973. After three months of lobbying, Canada accepted nearly 7,000 refugees, all of whom left due to political instability.
- There was a large reduction in the second wave of refugees. Between 1979 and 1982, significantly fewer refugees were entering Canada. Only about 1,000 Chileans entered, many of whom were following family and friends. They reunited with separated family members and sought jobs.
- The third wave, ending in the 1980s, was reduced even further. Less than 700 refugees entered Canada between 1982-1986. From this point onward, the number of refugees greatly declined.
- Canadians accommodated the Chileans. Although Chilean refugees settled in different regions, Canadian institutions helped Chileans create schools, news sources, churches and political organizations. These systems provided Chileans with a community in their new country, allowing them to cope and address anger toward the new Chilean regime.
- Britain established World University Service (WUS) scholarships for Chileans. These scholarships, funded by the Labor Government, enabled 900 Chileans, domestic and international, to complete their education.
- Over 1 million Chileans were displaced. Although the dictatorship ended in 1990, there are still nearly 1 million displaced Chileans.
Out of the 1 million Chileans abroad, 12.1% have not returned to their native country due to concerns regarding instability.
- There are still 40,000 people of Chilean descent living in Canada. These Chileans are part of the labor force contributing to Canada’s flourishing economy.
- The Chilean government has stabilized. Since Pinochet, the Chilean government has created policies, such as the Electoral Reform, which ensures equal representation in the government as well as an economic law mandating, “structural surplus equal to 1 percent of the gross domestic product.”
A country that once violated its citizens’ human rights now welcomes Syrian refugees, who are suffering similar injustices. While Chilean refugees constituted a large part of the Canadian population, they are no longer one of the top five groups entering the country.
Some Chileans returned to their native country while others stayed in their new home. As Katherine Knox and Tony Kushner stated in their book, ‘Refugees in an Age of Genocide,’ “Such work at a local level enabled refugees to start rebuilding lives which had been so brutally damaged in their homeland.”
– Kristen Guyler