Chilean police have dismantled a crime ring that helped to smuggle hundreds of Haitian migrants' children, sometimes without their parents, from Chile to Mexico and the US, Interpol said on Monday.
The transnational group ran a complex, cross-border network that smuggled an estimated 1,000 Haitian migrants out of Chile, including 267 Chilean children under the age of 6, all born to Haitian migrants, the global police agency said.
Police said some of the children were not travelling with their real parents, while others were found abandoned or their parents died along the way.
"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 border camp at the Mexican-US border.
Some have been flown back to Haiti, while others are waiting to have their cases for asylum heard in the US or remain scattered across Latin America seeking refuge.
Many of the Haitian migrants had initially settled in South American countries such as Chile and Brazil, where some say they had difficulty finding work and experienced discrimination.
Protests in Chile have flared in recent weeks against Venezuelan migrants who have set up camps in city squares and on beaches.
Interpol said the smuggling ring promoted their services to Haitians through WhatsApp, then helped to covertly take them into Peru from Chile, after which they began their journey north.
Chilean police arrested nine suspects involved in the operation – four Chileans, two Venezuelans, one Peruvian, one Haitian and one Paraguayan.