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International Migrant Day: Challenges of Cultural Integration in Today's Chile

Work, studies, and religion are some essential aspects when thinking about how to integrate foreigners who come to the country. Their own identity and culture motivate experts' research, as is the doctoral thesis "Religious patterns, practices, and institutions in the social insertion of the migrant population," which won the Cardinal Newman Award.

Group of migrant women waiting for a bus.

photo_camera In Chile, 1,492,522 foreigners are regular immigrants, according to the INE, and as of September of 2020, more than 6,000 foreign citizens entered the country through illegal border crossings. (Photo by César Cortés)

December the 18th marks the International Migrants Day, proclaimed by the United Nations Organization (UN), given the world's increased migratory flows.

The motto for 2020 was #WeTogether. It focused on social cohesion stories, which are different among the people who have decided to immigrate to another country due to various circumstances.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a migrant is someone who fits this description:

  • Anyone who moves, across an international border or within a country, outside of his / her usual residence place.

In this sense, some freely choose to go elsewhere, but, in many cases, people have no choice but to leave their own country and start over from scratch to survive. 

The most frequent reasons for deciding to separate from families and friends are:

  • wars and conflicts, 
  • natural disasters, 
  • the political, social, and economic situation of a nation, 
  • And climate change.

Migration in 2020

The IOM World Migration Report, updated to 2020, reveals about 272 million international migrants globally, representing 3.5% of the world's population.

"By their very nature, the complex dynamics of migration can never be fully measured, understood, and regulated. However, as this report shows, we do have a continuously growing and improving body of data and evidence that can help us make better sense of the basic features of migration and how they are changing," stated the report.

While most people in the world still live in a country where they were born, there has been an increase in migrating to other countries, especially in their region. 

In 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic, the situation varied somewhat, with several migrants returning to their countries of origin to face the economic effects of COVID-19. Many others have had to meet complex scenarios, such as waiting to enter destination countries. 

In this sense, the document addresses complex and emerging aspects of migration, such as migrants' contributions to societies, inclusion, and social cohesion.

How is this issue being addressed in Chile?

Is Chile a welcoming country?

When migrants arrive in a new country, they face the challenge of building a new life, far from their culture, customs, and place of origin. 

Therefore, they must make an effort to learn a new language and different cultural codes while trying not to lose their own identity and make friends, among many other aspects.

On the other hand, host countries are likely to be prejudiced against immigrants.

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE Spanish acronym), 1,492,522 foreigners are regular immigrants in Chile. Until September of this year, more than 6,000 foreign citizens entered Chile through illegal border crossings, especially in the north.

This situation is complicated and worries the authorities, who, on December the 3rd, passed a new Law on Migration and Aliens after eight years in the legislative process.

The law approved by the Senate includes the creation of a new National Immigration Service and the obligation for foreigners to process their respective visas at Chilean consulates.

On this, Waleska Ureta, director of the Jesuit Migrant Service, appreciates the new regulations' aspects but argues that there is still much to be done. 

"Chile is an unequal country, and when the migrant population cannot be regularized, there's an increased need to find places to live," she said in an interview with the newspaper La Tercera on December the 13th.

The identity of migrants

Felipe Orellana's doctoral thesis, "Religious Patterns, Practices, and Institutions in the Social Insertion of the Migrant Population," won the Cardinal Newman Award and Decoration. This work seeks to identify the Catholic and Pentecostal churches' role in the insertion of the migrant population. (Photo by César Cortés)
Felipe Orellana's doctoral thesis, "Religious Patterns, Practices, and Institutions in the Social Insertion of the Migrant Population," won the Cardinal Newman Award and Decoration. This work seeks to identify the Catholic and Pentecostal churches' role in the insertion of the migrant population. (Photo by César Cortés)

Several aspects are considered when integrating those who have migrated, such as studies, work, and religion, among others. For each of them, various analyses and breakdowns have been carried out.

Such is the case of "Religious Patterns, Practices, and Institutions in the Social Insertion of the Migrant Population." The doctoral thesis of Felipe Orellana Gallardo, winner of the Cardinal Newman Award and Decoration, identifies the Catholic and Pentecostal churches' role in the insertion of the migrant population.

This doctoral thesis research recalls the importance of deepening the dialogue between religion and science, technology, social sciences, and the arts and humanities from an unprecedented and original perspective.

"The spiritual dynamic is an ongoing and transversal element in different societies, types of believers, and disciplines, allowing people's participation from the hard sciences to theology because the concern for the transcendent is not limited to this last discipline. Still, we interact with it from the most diverse disciplinary niches or points of view," said Felipe Orellana, Ph.D. in Sociology.

This research was guided by the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Eduardo Valenzuela. And Orellana carried out empirical studies in the Parish Latinoamericana in Providencia and the Parish of Santa Cruz in Estación Central. Both parishes have incredible cultural diversity.

Felipe Orellana's study consists of three articles: 

  1. Identify the relationship between religious reflexivity and individual belief. 
  2. Participation in the Haitian pastoral as an element of ethnic distancing and cleavage or an element for interaction with the parish's Chilean community. 
  3. Through a literature review, identified the elements inherent in Haitian Pentecostalism in migratory contexts. Conversion motivated by a spiritual dimension is characteristic of Haitian Pentecostalism instead of Latin American Pentecostalism, where conversion has a social aspect.

"The results show how spirituality is present in the lives of migrants who come to the parishes. (**) This is how, about religious reflexivity, belief is strengthened in the face of contact with cultural diversity," said the Ph.D. in Sociology.

About the Cardinal Newman Award

The Cardinal Newman Award was created in 2018 as a joint initiative of the Office of Campus Ministry & Christian Culture and the Graduate School of the Office of Vice President for Research.

Its objective has been to recognize the research developed by doctoral students who, through their thesis work, take their discipline and studies into dialogue with the Christian faith and contribute significantly to the university's mission of evangelizing culture.

The Office of Pastoral and Christian Culture and the Office of the Vice President for Research promote research on different topics. Migration is one that has generated impact and interest in the university community.

For more information go to the Office of Campus Ministry & Christian Culture or write to

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