The tragedy of Venezuela is having repercussions across the border. Every prolonged situation of armed conflict, violence, oppression, leads people to flee, turning them into refugees and asylum-seekers. This is equally true for the Venezuelan people. Two hot border zones. The first, to the south, is the border with Brazil: a thousand-kilometre-long wild and winding track that extends across the mountains and crosses the Amazon Rainforest. The second, to the west, passes across the Colombian border zone. The Colombian border of Cúcuta is located along the porous border which in the course of the years became a place of illegal trafficking and of daily stories of encounter, friendship and family relationships. There are refugees also in Guyana, to the east, as well as in the Caribbean islands, that are not very distant from the Venezuelan coast.
Brazil, new arrivals in vertical growth. The situation in Brazil grows worse every day. The border city of Paracaima, in the State of Roraima, is on its last legs. Luiz Cláudio Mandela, executive director of Caritas Brazil, conveyed his concerns over the recent developments in an interview with SIR. He released figures that highlight an escalating situation.
Every day some 200 migrants cross the Southern border to seek shelter in Brazil.
Asylum requests in the first months of 2017 have already exceeded the overall number of those filed in the past 6 years, according to data released by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice. Until past May national authorities received 8,231 asylum requests, compared 3,375 in 2016. At present, according to Caritas, some 30 000 Venezuelan immigrants live in the city of Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima; 2.000 of them, according to the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) are members of the indigenous Warao.
“Venezuelan people are fleeing as a result of the current political situation, owing to lack of food and for economic reasons”, Mandela said. He added:
“Indigenous people are the poorest among the poor, the economic situation is even more precarious for them.”
As mentioned, Roraima is the most affected Brazilian State. “The borders with Venezuela are practically uncontrolled”, said the Caritas Director. Crowds of migrants converge in Boa Vista, where a gym has been transformed into a temporary reception centre, home to some 400 migrant people, but the requests exceed this number. They seek shelter also in other cities, like Manaus, the capital city of the State of Amazonas. Here the local authorities declared a state of social emergency due to the massive inflow of members of the Warao indigenous people.
For Luiz Cláudio Mandela, Venezuelan immigrants are victims of various forms of discrimination and are forced to live as rubbish collectors and beggars in Manaus, Boa Vista and Pacaraima. The Venezuelans are asking the government to regularize their situation, but the Brazilian Government’s long processing procedures of asylum-requests delay their regularization. For example, in Pacaraima asylum requests cannot be processed on the Internet owing to lack of access online.
Migrants’ reception on the shoulders of the Church, appeal to the Federal Government. The Caritas Director pointed out that reception efforts are largely on the shoulders “of local Churches, especially in the dioceses of Boa Vista and Manaus, of Caritas and of the Scalabrinian missionaries.” As regards migrant reception “priority is given to children and women.” The Brazilian Church and Caritas have launched a public awareness campaign and a fundraising campaign.
“Making Brazilian society aware of what is happening is the primary goal. Two conflicting feelings, solidarity and confusion, are registered throughout the population.”
Caritas Brazil also appealed to political and institutional representatives: “Local Governments are worried, while the Federal Government has failed to adopt concrete measures. As Caritas Brazil we held meetings with representatives of civil society and appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to make the Government more responsive. We are also in constant communication with Caritas centres in Latina America – with Caritas Venezuela in particular.”
Colombia’s daily exodus. As previously mentioned, the other “hot” border zone is the one with Colombia, especially in the city of Cúcuta. Here migrants arrive on a daily basis, but increasing numbers settle down in the neighbouring Country.
According to figures released by Colombian authorities some 45.000 – 50.000 people cross the border from Venezuela every day. By some estimates, 1.2 million Venezuelan citizens reside in Colombia – including illegal migrants.
The daily exodus is a result of the lack of food and essential commodities in Venezuela. Venezuelan migrants seek to purchase what they need in Colombia, despite exorbitant prices. In fact the minimum wage in Colombia amounts to 280 dollars, compared to 20 in Venezuela. In order to meet the needs of the Venezuelan population the diocese of Cúcuta has launched the initiative, put in place already across a number of Venezuelan cities, of the Ollas comunitarias, informal solidarity-based soup-kitchens to meet the needs of the most indigent.