The atmosphere is tense in Pacaraima, the small town of roughly 12,000 inhabitants which sits on Brazil’s border with Venezuela, in the northernmost state of Roraima. Tremors from an earthquake which hit the northern coast of Venezuela were felt on Tuesday afternoon, rattling buildings and causing people to take to the streets. It was a fitting end to what has been a turbulent week in the region, which has been the stage of one of the most serious xenophobic incidents in recent Brazilian history.
Since 2015, according to United Nations data, 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their home country, fleeing economic collapse. Approximately 1,500 have settled in Pacaraima, a tiny city which already suffers from elevated rates of poverty and inadequate public services. Disputes between the local population and Venezuelan refugees have been simmering in recent months, but things boiled over last week, as a group of Brazilians tried to chase Venezuelan families out of town, burning their belongings and destroying settlements.