Chile expelled 51 Colombian nationals on Thursday, the interior minister announced, the first of an expected 2,000 foreigners earmarked for expulsion this year as part of a get-tough immigration policy unveiled by President Sebastian Pinera in June.
The measure is part of a plan introduced by the world's largest copper producer to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants over the last four years.
The expulsions will prioritize foreigners with criminal records -- like those expelled Thursday -- as well as those who did not take up a government offer to regularize their situation.
Those expelled "are being repatriated to their country of origin, in this case Colombia," Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said.
With a criminal record acquired in either Chile or Colombia, the Colombians were transferred back to their own country aboard a Chilean Air Force plane.
"For the first time and in order to be able to carry out an expulsion that is orderly and generates the least fiscal expense, it has been done by group and in a Chilean Air Force plane which flies directly to Colombia and comes back tomorrow," the minister said.
Chadwick said that of the 51 expelled, 32 were serving sentences in Chilean jails, while the other 19 had criminal records -- 14 of those had convictions in Chile for drug-trafficking offenses or violent robbery. The other five had previous convictions in Colombia for serious crimes.
The Chilean government announced in June it would expel about 2,000 foreigners this year, prioritizing those with criminal records.
Chile is home to an estimated 1.1 million immigrants, more than half arriving in the last four years, many fleeing unrest in Haiti, Venezuela and Colombia.
Colombians are the second largest immigrant group in Chile after Peruvians.