By Henry Esquivel
NECOCLI, Colombia (Reuters) - An influx of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants seeking transport northward toward the United States is pushing locals in the Colombian beach town of Necocli out of housing, residents said, as landlords favor migrants able to pay in dollars.
The backlog of migrants waiting in the town for scarce places on boat transport toward the jungles of the Darien Gap in Panama, where smugglers guide groups northward on foot, has swelled to up to 19,000 after the lifting of COVID-19 border closures.
Though many migrants, low on cash, are sleeping in tents or on the town's beach, others are able to rent rooms by the day or share houses.
That has pushed out dozens of permanent residents.
"The owners of the house, without mincing words, just said they needed us to move out as quickly as possible," said dance teacher Yesid Puche.
"From a moral standpoint it's a bit sad that the same people from the town where you grew up will turn their backs on you for a few pesos."
The journey north is a long and dangerous one for the Haitians.
Many have spent years in other Latin American countries like Chile and Brazil, where some say they experienced racism. Families, many including young children, want to reach the United States to seek better opportunities than those available in their home country, which has been repeatedly battered by political crises and natural disasters.
Renting to migrants is advantageous for locals, especially amid the Colombian peso's 11% depreciation this year.
"It has all the basic requirements, electricity, water, they have a kitchen where they can make their food, which is really different to ours, and they have a bathroom," said Francisco Mejia, whose family rents to migrants for $6 per person.
Even commercial properties are being re-purposed.
"Around 100 homes have been taken from local renters to give them to Haitians and around 50 commercial locales also have been taken or contracts have been ended to rent to Haitians," Necocli's procurator Wilfredo Menco said.
U.N. agencies on Thursday called on countries not to expel Haitians without evaluating their needs and to offer protective measures for them to legally remain, after the United States expelled some 4,000 Haitians in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Henry Esquivel and Camilo Cohecha in Bogota; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Alistair Bell)