In February 2018, the government of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima required the country’s supreme court to close the border with Venezuela to prevent more immigrants from entering into Roraima.
According to the municipal authorities of Boa Vista, Roraima’s capital, there were already approximately 40,000 Venezuelan immigrants living in the city, corresponding to 10% of the city’s population. Roraima’s governor reported that, on average, 700 Venezuelan immigrants were crossing the border with Brazil every day.
Venezuelans are flooding into Brazil mainly to escape from hunger, the scarcity of medicines, political instability, and inflation in their home country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), inflation is projected to hit 13,000% in 2018.
The key issues
The increase of the inflow of Venezuelan immigrants since 2016 is overburdening the already precarious public facilities and infrastructure of Roraima, one of Brazil’s poorest states.
There are only two public hostels in Boa Vista. Able to receive around 2,000 Venezuelan immigrants total, they are already working beyond capacity. As a result, many families of Venezuelan immigrants find themselves living in the streets, frequently occupying the city’s parks and squares.
Another sphere in which the effects of the Venezuelan crisis has been felt is Brazil’s public health system. According to Roraima’s government, 760 Venezuelans were treated in public hospitals in the state in 2014, a figure that grew to 15,055 in 2017. At Roraima’s only maternity hospital, 340 Venezuelan women gave birth in 2017. Roraima’s government also stated that the flow of Venezuelan immigrants has been partially responsible for small outbreaks of measles and tuberculosis in the state.
What is more, the number of Venezuelan children enrolled in Roraima’s public schools rose 1,064% between 2015 and 2017. Approximately 300 Venezuelan families have also become beneficiaries of Brazil’s cash transfer program Bolsa Família.
According to the same request by Roraima’s governor to close the border, the effects of the Venezuelan crisis can also be observed in criminality. In 2015, 13 crimes of various types in Roraima were committed by Venezuelans; Venezuelans were also victims of 27 crimes. In 2017, these figures increased to 56 and 119, respectively. Further, the prostitution of Venezuelan immigrants in the suburbs of Boa Vista is on the rise. In 2016 and 2017, Roraima’s government declared a state of emergency due to the inability of the health system to attend to the large volume of Venezuelan immigrants.
What has Brazil done?
Currently, Brazil’s strategy consists of resettling the Venezuelan immigrants in Roraima by moving them to the southernmost states of the country, such as São Paulo. However, the speed of this process has not kept up with the continuous inflow of Venezuelan immigrants, since the immigrants need to be controversially screened and vaccinated prior to being resettled from Roraima. Moreover, some of the southernmost states have imposed other controversial requirements for receiving immigrants, such as, must be male, single, and physically able to work. As a result, in March 2018, 266 Venezuelan immigrants were moved from Roraima to the states of Mato Grosso and São Paulo.
What else can Brazil do?
Brazil can do more than move Venezuelan immigrants from Roraima to other states to alleviate the crisis. Another important step would be to change those individuals’ status from “immigrants” to “refugees”.
Since 2015, Brazil has received an increasing amount of applications for refugee asylum from Venezuelans. Between 2015 and 2017, applications increased from 280 to 17,130. Among the applicants, 58% were male and an average of 25 years old. None of them were accepted, however, because according to Brazil’s Immigration Law, the country is only allowed to receive refugees in the case of political, religious, or ethnic persecution of the applicants, which does not apply to the Venezuelan immigrants. Nonetheless, the change of the immigrants’ status from “immigrants” to “refugees” would accelerate the regularization process and provide [Venezuelan immigrants] the immediate right to work anywhere in Brazil.
Finally, Brazil needs to develop strategies to better deal with, or mitigate attitudes and acts of racism toward Venezuelan immigrants. Racism toward other Latin Americans was evident with the arrival of Haitian immigrants, shortly before the inflow of Venezuelans into Brazil. Since then, episodes of racism against Latin American immigrants have frequently occurred throughout the country. Thus, campaigns and actions for increased tolerance and respect for Venezuelan immigrants would facilitate the process of their internalization and integration within Brazilian society, and, potentially help alleviate the symptoms of the humanitarian crisis in Brazil.
Time to take action, not blame
On the one hand, the international community should pressure the Venezuelan government to develop, and more importantly, implement solutions to the domestic-turned-regional-crisis. On the other hand, countries such as Brazil should not use the domestic aspect of Venezuela’s crisis as a basis for neglecting [Brazil’s] own responsibility to provide services and protection to the Venezuelan immigrants. Some Brazilian states have already taken a few measures, but there is much more that can and should be done. There is no time or sense in lashing blame or guilt – regional solidarity and stabilization must be re-established in both Venezuela and the region.