Torres has just breastfed her young son Luis Joel and she wants to eat something sweet. “A candy, a cookie,” she says, sitting in the hammock of the PVC house where she is. “It’s anxiety,” he concludes. In a few hours, this 30-year-old Venezuelan will embark for the state of Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil, leaving Boa Vista, in the north of the country, accompanied by her six children. The oldest, 10-year-old Estrella, wears a ruched flowery dress. Her hair is adorned with a row of colored clips, as are her sisters: Kereane, 5; Luciane, 7; and Victoria, 6. Abraham, 8, was the only boy, until Joel’s arrival. It is the first time that they will get on a plane, heading to an unknown city. But there are no alternatives. They need to survive and inBrazil found a way.
All of her children were born in Ciudad Bolívar, except Joel, whom Dorianny gave birth to while living in a refugee camp in Boa Vista, the capital of the state of Roraima . On September 8, she had contractions and was transferred to the public hospital in the capital, in the middle of the pandemic . Joel, chubby and with wide-awake black eyes, was born in normal labor. His life, since then, is not different only because he came into the world from a different place than his brothers.
Joel is the synthesis of a new cycle of immigration that Brazil welcomes, since Venezuela collapsed with the
Since 2015, the number of Venezuelans who crossed the border to reach Brazil has risen. However, since 2018 there has been a vertiginous jump in the entry of Venezuelans that has made them the largest foreign community in the country. The city of Pacaraima, on the border with the Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén, in northern Brazil, was receiving an average of 500 people a day , a flow interrupted by the pandemic that closed the borders in March this year .
Today 262,475 Venezuelans live in Brazil, more than double the number two years ago. The majority, in migrant status, requesting to live here with a visa of at least two years. Another 46,647 accepted refugee status , arguing the lack of human rights conditions in their country of origin. There are also 102,504 Venezuelans with pending refugee applications, on the waiting list to obtain the documentation that will accept them as residents. They make up the highest number of refugee requests by nationality, according to the Brazilian Committee for Refugees (CONARE). According to the migration records of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, Venezuelans outnumbered Portuguese, Haitians and Bolivians, who until recently represented the main foreign groups residing in Brazil.
The great mass of Venezuelans who have entered Brazil as of 2018 did so through Pacaraima, and a good part have stayed there or in the capital of Roraima, Boa Vista, three hours from the border. With the flow concentrated in the north, the rest of Brazil did not notice the silent evolution of the migration of Venezuelans. No one knows this new migratory cycle as well as the inhabitants of Roraima.
It is not a very calm coexistence to be said. Venezuelans already occupy 40% of the state’s hospital beds, warned Governor Antonio Denarium in February this year, when a protest in Pacaraima tried to prevent the entry of new Venezuelans. Half of the students in Pacaraima schools are also children from Venezuela. The Brazilian government did not prepare for a response to the height of migration, and Roraima was not equipped for the new challenge. It has been a bumpy road for those arriving from the north of the country.
A scenario that is repeated throughout the history of Brazil, a country forged by hundreds of nationalities who arrive here. The first Japanese to arrive, at the beginning of the 20th century, for example, also experienced resistance. In 1914, São Paulo had 10,000 Japanese immigrants fleeing the difficulties of feudal Japan. Brazil had, at that time, 25.5 million inhabitants. They came to work in agriculture when Brazil was forced to give up slave labor after the abolition of slavery in 1888. It took a while for them to earn the respect of the landowners who hired them. There were episodes of racism and prejudice at the time, the same as those Venezuelans face in the cities of Roraima.
Adaptation and reception
The total number of Venezuelans in Brazil is a small percentage when compared to the 5.5 million mass that has already gone to other countries , especially Colombia and Peru — each one has received more than a million of them — and Chile (almost half a million).
The Brazilian territory is already the fifth largest recipient of Venezuelans, according to the Organization of American States (OAS) . Because it has a different language, Brazil has been the last option to emigrate. But, given the reluctance of those less populated countries, which welcomed many more Venezuelans before, it was better to face the differences.
Brazil also paved the way. He reduced the bureaucracy to receive them by declaring that Venezuela was a country in which serious and widespread human rights violations were committed. The National Committee for Refugees adopted the prima facie procedure, which eliminates the
detailed – and delayed – interviews in which it is decided whether or not to grant the foreigner a temporary residence or refugee visa. This mechanism guaranteed an unprecedented facility to welcome Venezuelans to the continent. Today, of the little more than 49,000 refugees in Brazil of different nationalities, 95% are Venezuelans.
The Government of Jair Bolsonaro assumed and expanded the so-called Operation Welcome, created in 2018 during the Government of Michel Temer, with the joint work of 12 ministries, which facilitated the access of Venezuelan immigrants. “There is a feeling in Venezuela that Brazil treats its people well,” says David Smolansky, former mayor of El Hatillo, one of the districts of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Smolansky acts today at the Organization of American States (OAS), in Washington, the group that monitors Venezuelans who emigrated.
He himself came fleeing the fury of Maduro, who began to persecute him in his capacity as an opponent. When he received an arrest warrant, he was forced to remain in hiding. For three or four days he traveled more than 1,000 kilometers towards the border disguised as a seminarian so as not to be recognized.
Wearing glasses, a cassock and no beard, Smolansky managed to arrive in Brazil in 2017, with the help of then-Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes. From there, he continued to the United States, where he began working for a coalition to restore full democracy in Venezuela.
The Brazilian Government has guaranteed those arriving from another country, such as Venezuelans, that they can live as Brazilian citizens (with the exception of voting). They have their own tax identification document, they attend public health services, their children go to school and they can move freely around the country. And many receive aid from the government program for families with few resources, known as Bolsa Familia. During the pandemic, they even had access to basic emergency income to overcome the health crisis.
At least 42,519 received this subsidy from Caixa Econômica Federal, Brazil’s state financial institution. The bank’s president, Pedro Guimarães, even said in an interview that in the city of Pacaraima there are more Venezuelans than Brazilians collecting aid. Money feeds, but part of him goes to Venezuela, to help needy relatives. “What is little here, there is a lot,” says Dorianny, who had the help of Bolsa Familia and access to emergency income during the pandemic. Part of what comes to him is sent to his parents.