Flooded with an influx of impoverished Venezuelan refugees fleeing the socialist failed state, Brazil will begin to implement a plan to relocate and assimilate hundreds of them throughout the nation next month.
Brazilian officials say the relocation process is necessary to prevent an emergency in Roraima state, which borders Venezuela and has taken much of the brunt of feeding and housing the refugees.
Brazil and Colombia have both received waves of refugees fleeing political persecution, starvation, and the near-total lack of essential medications plaguing the socialist dictatorship of Venezuela and have scrambled to meet the demands of the continent’s growing migration crisis.
The federal government in Brasilia announced on Wednesday that it would ship 350 Venezuelans refugees to Sao Paulo, on the country’s Atlantic coast, and 180 to Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state deep in the nation’s extensive rainforests. There, they will receive government aid and support in finding jobs.
“They are hungry. Last year, the Venezuelan population lost an average of eight, nine kilos (17-20 lbs). It is a serious situation, a humanitarian crisis that we cannot turn our backs to,” President Michel Temer’s chief of staff Eliseu Padilha told reporters on Wednesday. He described the Venezuelans entering the country as falling under three categories: “those coming in search of food or medicine … those who are here to stay in the regime, especially indigenous families, and those who want to move to the cities to find work.”
The process will reportedly begin in 15 days and not be limited to Sao Paulo and Amazonas states. High on the government’s priorities lists is ensuring that the Venezuelans are properly vaccinated, given the medical crisis in their country, to prevent malaria or measles outbreaks in Brazil. The refugees chosen to be relocated first are those living in public spaces or camps in Roraima, threatening the quality of life of locals there and exposing themselves to crime and illness.
“Sao Paulo and Manaus have accepted to receive some workers,” federal government official Natalia Marcassa de Souza said. “This is to dislodge the border a little bit. People are being registered and vaccinated.”
Marcassa identified most of those being transferred out of Roraima as single men capable of working and with “professional qualifications,” deemed capable of contributing to the Brazilian economy. An estimated 40 percent of Venezuelan refugees are single men, the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reports, citing government estimates.
A Globo report published this month found that most male Venezuelan refugees in Roraima are highly educated: students, engineers, doctors, and economists. Most are from Caracas, despite the capital’s long distance from the Brazilian border.
Those transferred out will be the first in what the government expects will be up to 3,000 refugees in this program—at least half from Boa Vista, Roraima, where public emergency facilities are overflowing with an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans. For comparison, all of Roraima state is home to nearly 500,000 people. Schools lack enough Spanish-speaking teachers to teach Venezuelan children, hospitals do not have enough medication to tend to both Brazilians and Venezuelans, and Venezuelan favelas, or slums, are popping up throughout Boa Vista.
“Before the streets (of Boa Vista) were quiet but now they are full of poor Venezuelans,” Boa Vista Mayor Teresa Surita said this month.
In August, Roraima’s regional government demanded the national guard come and protect their border. Temer declared a state of emergency over the Venezuelans in Roraima last week. The relocation program will send 70 million reais (about $21 million) in aid to Roraima for food, medicine, and shelter for the refugees.
Brazil has also begun intense discussions with Colombian officials over how to assimilate Venezuelan refugees. Colombia has taken in an estimated 300,000 Venezuelans, not including the tens of thousands who cross into Colombia on a daily basis to buy food and medicine but choose to return home. Venezuelan parents have begun dumping their children on the Colombian border, hoping someone will adopt them rather than attempting to migrate into that country themselves illegally. Colombia sent its migration experts to Turkey last year to survey Syrian refugee camps in anticipation of welcoming hundreds of thousands of starving Venezuelans.
“The objective is to keep our doors open … we are seeing Venezuelans in hunger, in complex health situations. It is a great challenge for our countries,” Colombia foreign minister María Ángela Holguín said after meeting with Temer this week.
Both Brazil and Colombia are suffering major crime crises. In Brazil, an overpopulated prison system has resulted in mass riots and grotesque prison murders fueled by gang rivalries. In Colombia, the legalization of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has reinvigorated the cocaine trade and fueled terrorist violence.