Thousands of Venezuelans struggling with the turmoil in their homeland under President Nicolas Maduro are fleeing to Brazil. The immigrants believe their prospects are better there, but their arrival is straining local medical, educational and social services. CGTN’s Katie Sargent reports.
Every day, hundreds of Venezuelans cross the lightly regulated border into Brazil, an unending stream flowing into the northern state of Roraima.
They’re fleeing political and economic uncertainty at home. Despite its oil wealth, Venezuela is suffering shortages of food and medicine, a fourth year of recession, widespread unemployment, and inflation that some fear could hit two-thousand percent.
“We really don’t have a future in Venezuela and the salary one earns is not enough at all,” said Venezuelan Solimar Marquez. “So we are headed to Brazil to see how that goes. Here, the real (Brazilian currency) is worth something. The bolivar (Venezuelan currency) is worthless.”
No one knows for sure how many Venezuelans have made it to Brazil. The United Nations’ refugee agency says it could be as many as 40,000. Brazilian officials say they won’t close the border, but they fear that one of the biggest migrations in recent Latin American history could be creating a humanitarian crisis.
In the state capital, Boa Vista, Mayor Teresa Surita says at least 25,000 Venezuelans have arrived in the border city since last year. Almost 1,000 of the children are now attending the city’s schools, and so many refugees need medical attention that the hospital has no free beds. Many of them have no place to live, other than the street, so the city has arranged a shelter to give them somewhere safe to sleep and eat.
“Venezuelans who were in a situation of social vulnerability at the bus terminal, living on the street, were barely surviving on donations,” said Lieutenant Troster, a member of the Roraima State Military Firefighters, adding that they transferred more than 400 people to the shelter.
Work is scarce in the city of 300,000, so many of the new arrivals wait by the roadside, looking for odd jobs, selling toys or cleaning windshields.
It may look bleak, but the refugees say it’s better than what they left behind, and many are optimistic that they’re on the road to a better future.
“I don’t plan to spend my whole life standing at a traffic light holding garden equipment to make a living. No, I know that from here, something better will emerge,” said Venezuelan Julio Cabellos.
About half the Venezuelans in Brazil have applied for refugee status. That gives them the right to live there while their case is being heard, and it gives them access to social services. A foreign ministry official said the government is working on contingency plans to help states like Roraima deal with the influx.
Yet, most Venezuelans say they have no intention of returning until the political situation changes or the economy recovers.