Buenos Aires, Argentina — At the start of the long Easter weekend, the Argentine capital’s airport is eerily quiet before dawn, hours before it fills with travellers. Around 100 people sleeping inside the facility are getting ready to start their day.
One of them is Ángel Gómez, who has lived at Jorge Newbery International Airport for two years and has seen the number of people joining him skyrocket.
“After the pandemic, it became a total invasion,” Gómez said early Thursday as he sat next to a sign advertising Perito Moreno Glacier, an iconic tourist attraction in Argentine Patagonia.
The airport, colloquially known as Aeroparque, has practically become a homeless shelter at night. It’s a stark reflection of the growing poverty in a country where some of the world’s highest inflation rates prevent many from making ends meet.
“If I pay rent, I don’t eat, and if I pay to eat, I’m on the street,” said Roxana Silva, who has lived at the airport with her husband, Gustavo Andrés Corrales, for two years.
Silva receives a government pension of around 45,000 pesos, which is equivalent to $213 at the official exchange rate and about half that on the black market.
“I don’t have enough to live on,” Silva laments, explaining that she and her husband take turns sleeping so someone is always watching their stuff.
More and more Argentines find themselves in Silva’s situation, with the country’s inflation hitting an annual rate of 102.5% in February. Although Argentina has been accustomed to double-digit inflation for years, it was the first time annual consumer price inflation had reached triple digits since 1991.
High inflation, which has been particularly pronounced in food staples, has hit the poor hardest and pushed the poverty rate to 39.2% of the population in the second half of 2022, an increase of three percentage points. percentage compared to the first six months of the year, according to Argentina’s national statistics agency, INDEC. Among children under 15, the poverty rate increased by more than three percentage points to 54.2%.
Horacio Ávila, who heads an organization dedicated to helping the homeless, estimates that the number of homeless people in the Argentine capital has soared 30% since 2019, when he and others conducted an unofficial tally of 7,251 people in this city of approximately 3.1 million.
Amid the rising cost of living and dwindling purchasing power, more and more people have begun to consider the airport as a possible haven.
Laura Cardoso saw this increase firsthand during the year she lived at the airport “sleeping up” in her wheelchair.
“More people have just arrived,” said Cardoso accompanied by her two dogs who she says have made it difficult for her to find accommodation because no one wants to rent to her. “It’s full of people.”
Mirta Lanuara is a new arrival, living at the airport for only about a week. She chose the airport because it’s clean.
Teresa Malbernat, 68, has lived at the airport for two months and says it’s safer than being in one of the city’s shelters, where she says she was robbed twice.
The Argentine company that operates the airport, AA2000, says it “lacks police power” and “the authority to expel these people”, while claiming it has an obligation to guarantee “non-discrimination in the use of airport facilities”.
For Elizabet Barraza, 58, the number of homeless people living in the airport illustrates why she chose to emigrate to France, where one of her daughters has lived for five years.
“I’m going because the situation here is difficult,” Barraza said as she waited to board her flight. “My salary is not enough to rent. Even if they raise wages, inflation is too high, so sometimes it’s not enough to rent and survive.
“I don’t want to come back,” Barraza said.