Venezuelans crossing the border into Pacaraima, Brazil looking for work

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Venzuelan migrants plod along highway 174 on their way from the border town of Pacaraima to Boa Vista Venzuelan migrants plod along highway 174 on their way from the border town of Pacaraima to Boa Vista

It started as a trickle that turned into a flood. Every day a growing number of Venezuelans are crossing the border with Brazil to escape the economic meltdown at home.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports.

Since January this year, between 600 and 800 a day are arriving in Pacaraima, according to mayor Juliano Torquato dos Santos. The small town is the only official point of entry between the two neighboring countries.

Some arrive by bus, others in rented taxis or even on foot. Their first destination of choice is Boa Vista, Brazil’s closest big city, 215 kilometers (133 miles) away.

“I used to weigh 90 kilos (198 pounds) , and I have lost 30 in the lasts five months,” says Darwin Chrivella, walking along a bleak stretch of Highway 174.

Venezuelans say wages are so low that the monthly minimum salary of slightly more than six U.S. dollars  per day can buy only two days’ worth of food.

According to the federal government around 40,000 Venezuelans are now living in Boa Vista, the capital of Brazil’s northern state of Roraima, which now amounts to 10 percent of the city’s population.

Suely Campos, Roraima’s governor, says she cannot confirm the exact number of Venezuelans that are now in the state because no census has been conducted.

“What I can say is that roughly 12,000 Venezuelans are being treated in our public health clinics every month and between four and five Venezuelan babies are born every day in Roraima. These are the only numbers we can confirm.”

Last month Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, declared a state of emergency in the region but said he would not block the entry of Venezuelans into the country.

“I’ve committed myself to sending all necessary resources to address the issue of Venezuelans in Roraima,” he said at a meeting with local authorities.

But the process is long and the humanitarian crisis, the first of its kind in Brazil, is growing after day.

“It is a situation that makes me feel impotent. The state can’t solve it alone without outside help,” Governor Campos said.

In just one park in Boa Vista, named after Venezuelan hero, Simon Bolivar, close to 1,000 migrants are living in tents or sleeping on cardboard.

Another 1,000 are staying in improvised shelters and thousands more can be found in small clusters throughout the city, washing car windows, selling sweets and cigarettes, anything to make a little money.

The main concern of Brazilian authorities is what to do with so many poorly skilled migrants, such as Wilfredo Martinez, a car painter.

“The choice I had was to either leave the country or become a thief. That was it,” he said.