Migrants from Venezuela May Cause Problem in Brazil

    15 December, 2017

    An increasing number of Venezuelans have moved out of the country recently. They are seeking to escape economic hardship and high crime rates in their homeland.

    Many of those Venezuelans are migrating to Brazil. One of them is Victor Rivera, a 36-year-old unemployed bakery worker. In August, Rivera left his home in northern Venezuela. He made the two-day trip across the countryside to Boa Vista, a city in the Brazilian state of Roraima.

    Few jobs can be found in Boa Vista, but Rivera finds his job prospects there more appealing than in his hometown. He says his six children often go hungry, as food in stores is in increasingly short supply.

    "I see no future in Venezuela," said Rivera.

    The once-wealthy nation is now struggling with a recession, widespread unemployment, shortages of supplies and high inflation.

    And at least 125 people died this year in clashes among government opponents, supporters and police.

    As conditions there worsen, nearby countries are struggling with one of the biggest migrations in Latin American history. With limited public services and jobs to offer migrants, Brazilian officials fear a full humanitarian crisis.

    George Okoth-Obbo is operations chief for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. He spoke to the Reuters news agency after a recent visit to Boa Vista. He noted, "Shelters are already crowded to their limit. It is a very tough situation."

    Venezuelan government officials do not know exactly how many of its 30 million people have migrated overseas in recent years. Some experts have estimated the number to be as high as 2 million.

    Brazil "not ready"

    Many of the Venezuelans leaving have few skills or financial resources. By migrating, then, they export some of the social problems that Venezuela has struggled to resolve.

    Mauricio Santoro is a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University. He says, "They're leaving because of economic, health and public safety problems, but putting a lot of pressure on countries that have their own difficulties."

    International officials are likening the situation in Venezuela to other mass migrations in Latin America's past, like that of people who fled Haiti after a 2010 earthquake. Thirty years earlier, about 125,000 Cubans attempted to travel by boat to the United States.

    A Venezuelan man cuts the hair of his friend at a gym which has turned into a shelter for Venezuelans in Boa Vista, Brazil Nov. 17, 2017.
    A Venezuelan man cuts the hair of his friend at a gym which has turned into a shelter for Venezuelans in Boa Vista, Brazil Nov. 17, 2017.

    Okoth-Obbo told Reuters that as many as 40,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil. Just over half of them have asked the government for asylum. But that process that can take up to two years.

    The request for asylum gives them the right to stay in Brazil while their appeal is considered. It also gives the migrants the right to health care, education and other social services.

    Some migrants in Boa Vista are discovering ways to get by. They have found low-cost housing or are staying in the few shelters that officials have provided. Others have no permanent place to stay, and instead live in the streets or turn to crime.

    Teresa Surita, the mayor of Boa Vista, said, "We have a very serious problem that will only get worse." She added that the city's once quiet streets are increasingly filled with poor Venezuelans.

    Most migrants to Boa Vista arrive by land. They enter Brazil on foot from the Venezuelan border town of Santa Elena. They then take buses or ask for rides from strangers to travel further south.

    Brazilian officials say border guards permit as many as 400 migrants to enter Roraima state daily. Roraima has the lowest population and smallest economy of any state in Brazil.

    Latin America's biggest country has struggled recently to deal with asylum seekers from countries such as Haiti and Syria. Brazil has approved more than 2,700 asylum requests from Syrian refugees. But the refugees have received little support from the government.

    One top official in Brazil's foreign ministry said the country will not close its borders. Okoth-Obbo said the UNHCR and Brazil's government are discussing ways to move refugees to larger cities.

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Anthony Boadle reported this story for the Reuters news agency. Jonathan Evans adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in this Story

    migrate – v. to move from one country or place to live or work in another

    prospect – n. an opportunity for something to happen

    resources – n. a supply of something such as money that someone has and can use when it is needed