Venezuelans flee crisis at home but face rising tensions in Brazil

Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)

An increasing number of migrants leaving Venezuela are in need of the international protections normally granted asylum seekers. Most Venezuelans have been finding refuge in other neighboring South American countries. Unfortunately many of those who have fled to Brazil have experienced increasing levels of xenophobia.

About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro. Most other Venezuelans have landed in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

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Receiving countries—which often face their own issues with poverty and social inequality—have applied more stringent border controls against Venezuelans, and deteriorating conditions threaten to escalate into a regional crisis.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015.

“We are aware of the growing challenges related to the massive arrival of Venezuelans in these countries,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, during a press conference in August in Geneva. “It remains critical to allow those in need of international protection to access security and seek asylum,” he added.

International authorities’ greatest concern are for the most vulnerable people—adolescents, women, unaccompanied children and those who want to be reunited with their families abroad.

Rosita Milesi, C.S., the founding director of the Institute of Migration and Human Rights in Brazil, told America that migration has always been an issue in the region, but the Venezuelan situation requires special attention.

“Their country has been facing a serious political, economic and humanitarian crisis, forcing its citizens to seek survival in other places,” she said.

“Venezuelans have been experiencing a widespread lack of state protection and violation of their fundamental rights. Food, medicine and health care are lacking. Hyperinflation drastically reduces the purchasing power of the population,” Sister Milesi said. According to an Amnesty International report released in December 2017, the basic food basket for a Venezuelan family of five people, thanks to hyperinflation, now costs 60 times more than the minimum wage.

Brazil is not the main destination for Venezuelans—Spanish-speaking countries are preferred—and it is where Venezuelans have had the greatest difficulties integrating successfully. Episodes of xenophobia and violence against immigrants have become frequent, especially in the Brazilian state of Roraima.

The basic food basket for a Venezuelan family of five people, thanks to hyperinflation, now costs 60 times more than the minimum wage.

In mid-August, 1,200 Venezuelans returned to their country after the camp where they were living while waiting to receive Brazilian documents was set upon and burned by locals in the border town of Pacaraima. The violence apparently was provoked when family members of a Brazilian merchant claimed he had been assaulted by Venezuelans. In September, hundreds of other Venezuelans left Brazil for home, afraid of experiencing similar violence. Local Brazilian politicians have exploited the issue during their election campaigns and spread rumors against Venezuelans on social media.

Nevertheless each day, an average of 400 to 500 Venezuelans arrive in Pacaraima. Since 2017, local Brazilians have complained of an increase in violence and disorderly conditions, blaming this on Venezuelans.

Because of the Venezuelan crisis, Brazilians are called to show solidarity with migrants, Sister Milesi said. Unfortunately, she added, Roraima is a poor state with “absolutely no capacity” to welcome, shelter and offer employment opportunities to Venezuelans arriving there.

According to Sister Milesi, the response by the Brazilian national government has been too slow to help integrate Venezuelans, leaving too much of a burden on Roraima State. The population of Roraima is approximately 500,000; it has the lowest G.D.P. among Brazilian states. Since the crisis began in their home country, Venezuelans have come to represent around 10 percent of the Roraima population.

A federal emergency assistance committee was created in February to manage shelters in Roraima and facilitate the “internalization” of migrants in other Brazilian states. “These measures are still incipient and insufficient for the management of the Venezuelan migratory flow,” Sister Milesi said.

A Brazilian missionary in Roraima, Sister Telma Lage, coordinator of the Center for Migration and Human Rights of the Diocese of Roraima, believes that the national government must begin to treat Venezuelans not as a migration problem, but as a welcome economic resource.

“Immigration has transformed the economy of Roraima, once very restricted to public [sector] jobs. Many immigrant families rent houses, stay here and buy food, clothing, shoes, medicines and other goods to send to relatives who remain in Venezuela,” Sister Lage said.

In this context, the local church has focused on helping migrants obtain documents and protecting their rights under Brazilian law. The church has led the fight against human trafficking in the region and has been teaching Portuguese to the Spanish-speaking migrants. It has been helping them find jobs and assisting them to live their faith under difficult circumstances.

“Pope Francis’ teaches the church to pursue four fundamental actions for migrants and refugees: to welcome, protect, promote and integrate them,” said Sister Milesi. “We try to ensure that our initiatives are not isolated, but comprehensive, in order to ensure that Venezuelans can effectively rebuild their lives in Brazil,” she said.

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J Cosgrove
10 months 4 weeks ago

Notice a missing word from article. Where is "socialism?" How did the richest country in Latin America become the poorest? Answer, they tried the favorite economic system of the Jesuits.

Gadus Morhua
10 months 3 weeks ago

You mean socialism for the wealthy, as it is practiced in the United States, right? Bail out of bankers, or "too big to fail"; which is nothing more than privatizing profits and socializing losses. Regressive tax cuts that permit the rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It is corporate welfare for the well-off and brutal capitalism for the poor, so let's hear it for free markets for minimum wage workers and and state protection for the rich!

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

Nearly everything you say is nonsense There was a bailout of some of the bankers after the financial crisis opposed by many but probably a prudent thing given the uncertainty of the event. That's it, the only thing that is not complete nonsense. By the way most of those bankers vote for the left leaning party, the Democrats.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

Income tax by income earned 2015 in US
Top1% paid 28.7% of total
Top5% paid 36.9% of total
Top10% paid 47.4% of total
Top25% paid 70.0% of total
Top50% paid 88.7% of total
Bottom 50% 11.3%
About 45% pay no income tax

Stanley Kopacz
10 months 3 weeks ago

Well yeah. Which attests to the wage stagnation of the lower classes, the flow of capital upwards, the increasing economic disparity, the poverty. But, don't worry, the repubs will fix the oppressive taxes on the rich. And yes, the Democrats are bought off too, mostly. We need instant runoff voting so we can wipe away the two corrupt parties.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

One can point to the actual month where wage stagnation for the non supervisory working person. It was in 1973 and was a reflection of the large number of low skilled workers entering the United States from mostly Mexico. The tremendous and continued increase in supply caused wages to stagnate for over 30 years at the lower end. Another correlation with the suppression of wages at the lower end was the War on Poverty. Poverty was decreasing till it was approved.

Stanley Kopacz
10 months 3 weeks ago

I don't remember a lot of Mexicans popping up in factories and steel mills. The other factor of exporting work is more likely. Also, there are numerous factors here but you cherry pick according to your ideological preferences.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

You should read about supply and demand. When supply goes up the price goes down if demand remains the same. Supply of low skilled workers increased in late 60's and early 70's due to changes in the immigration laws in 1965. These people ended somewhere in the labor supply. Under what scenario would that not affect the price of labor? Exporting jobs would just exacerbate it by lowering demand so you are proving my point.

Gadus Morhua
10 months 3 weeks ago

If the only thing you can say to rebut my points is that they are "nonsense" and that "bankers vote for the left", then thank you for confirming their validity. BTW, your ignorance of economics and statistics is astounding. The top 1% of income earners in the U.S. average over 40 times the income earned by the remaining 90%. The comparative shares of total income tax paid mean nothing without considering them alongside income distribution. As the majority of individuals see their nominal income stagnate or decrease, then the share of total income tax paid by the top 1% as an income group will rise accordingly. Duh.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

You are describing the richest economy in the world like it was a basket case. That is absurd which is why most of what you said was nonsense. Several of the banks were bailed out and that is true. Most weren't. But the rest has no basis in reality.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

The top 1% make 28.65% of adjusted income. They pay 39.8% of income tax. Yes they are richer. That is obvious. There is no analysis that shows by making them less rich, others will do better. Most of their money gets invested and most of the investments end up producing activities that provide jobs. The majority of individual are not seeing their incomes stagnate. Where did you ever get that notion? Low income workers saw their incomes stagnate for several years due to low skilled immigration.

Gadus Morhua
10 months 3 weeks ago

You keep mixing up your income and tax paid percentages showing your ignorance of the facts. You brought up the subject of socialism; and it is an unjust distortion of that economic system that favors the wealthy in the U.S, at the expense of everyone else. Income inequality in the U.S. is worsening; this is a fact. More importantly, soaring incomes at the top are achieved, in large part, by squeezing those below: by cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions, and diverting a rising share of national resources to financial wheeling and dealing. Perhaps more important still, the wealthy exert a vastly disproportionate effect on policy. And elite priorities – obsessive concerns with tax reductions on the most wealthy, and budget deficits, with the supposed need to slash social programs – have done a lot to deepen wage stagnation and income inequality. It is called selfishness, lack of compassion, and oppression of those less fortunate, and this is a Jesuit magazine site...so why are you here trolling your lies and political propaganda garbage?

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

You brought up the subject of socialism; and it is an unjust distortion of that economic system that favors the wealthy in the U.S

Yes, I brought up socialism. It brings misery everywhere it is tried. Just look at Venezuela. The United States has never had any form of socialism. Though many are trying. The left is trying to socialize medicine but so far have not been successful.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

For a good but long video on socialism, watch Joshua Muravchik's Heaven on Earth - The Rise and Fall of Socialism

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HULP8WHgVs&app=desktop

Stanley Kopacz
10 months 3 weeks ago

So the trickle down thing was another neoliberal lie. Making the rich richer was supposed to make everyone richer. Did not happen. Reinvestment does not make jobs if there is no demand. How much surplus is spent increasing order and reducing entropy and how much in the casino of speculation? The economy is twice as financialized as it used to be and that money just goes in circles.

J Cosgrove
10 months 3 weeks ago

Jan 1983 when Reagan tax cuts were first in place employment was 89 million. Latest now 35 years later, 149.4 million jobs. Where did those 60 million jobs come from? Perhaps innovation due to investment. GDP per person in Jan 1983 was $29,400. In July of 2018 just over 35 years later, it is $56,467. Median income 1990 $14,498. Median income 2017 $31,561. I wonder how all this happened.

Chuck Kotlarz
10 months 3 weeks ago

Philip, unfortunately, nonsense is a truthful comment. Comments (and AM articles) that advocate the public interest and the common good often elicit comments such as nonsense, flawed, confusing, etc.

For example, on October 1st Brianne Jacobs in AM referred to “left behind millennials” and that prompted some critical comments. However, Brianne’s essay reminded me of a canary in the coal mine. I pointed out the Dow Jones average hit a record high on October 3rd. The Dow has since closed over 2,000 points lower.

Brianne’s essay, and your comments as well, warrant more merit than some perhaps would like to admit.

darsh singh
10 months 3 weeks ago

Hello Filipe, I hear that news from somewhere but you write it correctly, I also think that way but could not get the answer. Now I got my answer When I read this article. thanks for sharing .

Chuck Kotlarz
10 months 3 weeks ago

Post WWII Japan perhaps modeled successful nation building. General MacArthur’s plan for Japan included an 85% top personal income tax rate. The top rate has since fallen but remains one of the highest in the world at 55%. Japan has the world’s third largest economy.

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