Venezuelans amount to 10% of Boa Vista's population. Photo: Commons
venezuelans in brazil

Venezuelans amount to 10% of Boa Vista’s population. Photo: Commons

Venezuelan migrants are arriving to Brazil in record numbers: in the first six months of 2017, the total number of refugee requests reached 7,600, already higher than the total 3,368 in 2016. But arrivals are in fact higher. The country’s political and economic collapse has created an extraordinary migration wave, but just 33.7 percent of Venezuelans arriving are applying for refugee status.

But the Venezuelan exodus to Brazil arrives almost entirely in one city. Boa Vista, the far-flung capital of Roraima state, absorbs 84.71 percent of refugee requests, despite financial difficulties and a lack of infrastructure. The federal government has expressed intention to introduce national armed forces on the border, to add order and steadiness to the constant flow of people crossing over.

But while the typical Venezuelan migrant arriving to Boa Vista is young, male and already working, there are signs that the load is weighing heavily on the 277,799 -strong town. Recent outbreaks of measles have led to a vaccination campaign, aided by the federal government. Hundreds of migrants unable to find shelter are sleeping rough in a public square and rely on food donations. Many face discrimination when finding work, with reports of unscrupulous employers demanding longer hours and lower pay – including for sex work.

Despite these difficulties, figures from the UN’s refugee agency reveal that just a quarter of arrivals to Brazil say they intend to return to Venezuela, while 47 percent want to stay. But for many, uncertainty dominates: 27 percent have no idea if they will stay in Brazil or head back across the border. For 80 percent, finding work in Brazil is the key factor in their decision to stay or leave.

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SocietyFeb 21, 2018

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BY Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.