UN designates Venezuelan migrants fleeing to Brazil as refugees

World Today

FILES-BRAZIL-VENEZUELA-IMMIGRATION In this file photo taken on February 25, 2018 A Venezuelan refugee takes rest inside the improvised refugee camp in the Simon Bolivar square, Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil, on February 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL / AFP)

The massive influx of Venezuelans crossing the border into Brazil is rapidly increasing. They are fleeing an economic crisis. The situation, already considered a humanitarian crisis, has become so grave that the United Nations has now officially qualified them as refugees.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco has more.

It’s not without irony that the park in which these Venezuelans are lining up for food is named after their hero of independence: Simon Bolivar.

They are in Boa Vista, Brazil, and have been officially categorized as refugees by the United Nations; totally dependent, for the time being, on local charity and the Brazilian government.

“I fled Venezuela because it is impossible to eat,” said Julio Pereira, a Venezuelan refugee. “We work and we can’t eat, we can’t buy food. It is too expensive, very expensive.”

Some 40,000 thousand Venezuelans – more than 10 percent of the city’s population according to the mayor’s office – have now settled in Boa Vista.

It’s estimated that more than one thousand Venezuelans are living in this park alone, with literally nothing to do except wait until their work permits are processed.

At the city’s federal police headquarters, lines are long. Processing documents that used to take weeks now take months, but the U.N. declaration of refugee status is significant for these Venezuelans.

Bertrand Blanc, a Senior Emergency Officer at the UN Refugee Agency, said, “UNHCR is at the position that the Venezuelans entering Brazil are in need of international protection. They are refugees, and Brazil needs the support of the international community to protect all Venezuelans crossing the border.”

While no official statistics have been released, around 600 to 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil every day, according to local authorities.

Maria Fernandez, a Venezuelan student, and refugee said that she was in Brazil, “with faith, and I hope God will bless me so I can find a job, an honest job, so I can help my family and myself.”

Residents of Boa Vista have seen nothing like this before. Venezuelans, some of them highly-trained professionals, say they would rather be doing something to earn a little money rather than beg.

The lucky ones are those staying in one of three shelters in the city. One of them is a converted gymnasium, where conditions are crowded, but sanitation has improved and food has started to arrive thanks to the state of emergency declared by Brazilian President Michel Temer.

Despite the conditions, Venezuelans here say they are better off than in their own country and are grateful to see their children playing with full stomachs.