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Venezuela with a border crisis of epic proportions, neighbors join to contain refugees

Isac Dantes/AFP

Residents of the Brazilian town of Pacaraima burnt tyres and belongings of Venezuelan immigrants earlier this month after attacking their two main makeshift camps, leading them to cross the border back home. Venezuelans Trapped in Brazilian Backwater Face Riots and Violence. Migrant camps are burnt at the Venezuela-Brazil border -Play Video -

- Meetings throughout the region aim to create unified policies

- The outflow now equals Europe's Mediterranean migrant crisis

By Matthew Bristow and John Quigley

Petroleumworld 08 30 2018

Venezuela's accelerating slide toward mass starvation has become a continental disaster and South American governments this week began trying to manage it together.

With thousands of migrants pouring over the border -- an outflow equal to the Mediterranean refugee crisis -- government officials are meeting in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador to coordinate a response that so far has been haphazard. On the agenda are measures to prevent epidemics, harmonize identification requirements and share the burden of relief.

“The migration crisis is putting Venezuela squarely on the table in a way we haven't seen so far,” said Geoff Ramsey , an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research organization that works for human rights. “It's no longer an internal affair.”

In all, 2.3 million Venezuelans live outside the country, with more than 1.6 million fleeing the ravaged petrostate since 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That's roughly equal to the flow of migrants to Europe in the same period. The crisis looks likely to worsen as oil output plunges thanks to mismanagement, and hyperinflation defies attempts to rein it in.

Open Question

There's another discussion on what to do about Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a socialist autocrat who has withstood protests, coup and assassination attempts and U.S. sanctions. Peru and Argentina said this month that they will join Chile, Colombia and Paraguay to accuse Maduro of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Leaders have called for elections and the restoration of Venezuela's nullified National Assembly, but U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestions of military intervention have few backers. Instead, neighboring countries are contending with the burden Maduro has handed them.

In Boa Vista, Brazil, the capital of impoverished Roraima state, the situation is desperate . Dom Mario Antonio da Silva, the state's Catholic bishop, said Wednesday that about 25,000 refugees have reached the city, and as many as many 4,000 sleep on the streets. The church is offering food baskets, serving breakfast to 1,200 people and teaching migrants Portuguese.

"What we need are effective immigration policies,” da Silva said. “At the moment, we have no immigration policies. What Brazil is doing at the moment is just first aid, emergency measures."

Common Cause

This week, officials from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil met in Bogota to discuss joint strategies on health care, schooling and employment for migrants. On Wednesday, there were further meetings in Lima to formulate a request to organizations including the UN and the Red Cross to step up financial and logistical support, said Enrique Bustamante, head of policy at Peru's immigration agency.

“The number of Venezuelan migrants in the region is unprecedented,” he said. “There's never been a migratory flow like this in such a short time.”

Ministers from as many as 14 countries and 10 international organizations are to meet Sept. 3-4 in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss the crisis more broadly.

Catching Up

Not a moment too soon, said Ian Vasquez , director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity in Washington. “The region appears unprepared and surprised,” he said. “It's turning into a wider humanitarian crisis.”

The costs of an effective response are unknown. So far, the U.S. is spending more than $65 million on development and humanitarian assistance. Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the UN, visited Colombia's border with Venezuela this month and said the burden on neighboring countries compelled the U.S. to act.

“When a region condemns one of their own, the international community listens,” she said.

The U.S is sending a Navy hospital ship to Colombian waters in September, and China is dispatching a similar vessel to Venezuela itself.

Pay Now

The UN High Commissioner is halfway to funding a $46.1 million mission in which it is working with governments to improve asylum and refugee management systems and meeting basic needs. Olga Sarrado , a spokeswoman on Venezuelan matters, stressed the need for donor countries to immediately provide the rest of the money. Humanitarian organizations and governments are being swamped by the almost 5,000 people who leave daily, she said.

“They are still responding, they are not overwhelmed, but they are reaching a saturation point,” she said Wednesday night.

Colombia, which has a 1,400-mile border with Venezuela, has borne the brunt, with almost a million migrants now in the country , according to authorities. But Colombia has its own problems, including one of the region's highest unemployment rates, and it has tightened visa rules and deployed troops to patrol informal border crossings.

At a Bogota restaurant called Caraota (Venezuelan dialect for “bean”), owner Jorge Lara has a stack of resumes from Venezuelan migrants. He gets two or three per day.

“They don't mind what type of work it is,” Lara said Wednesday at his restaurant, which sells Venezuelan staples such as arepas. “They are simply looking to get established, to get some income as soon as possible.”

Closing Crossings

Luis Robayo/AFP

Venezuelan migrants board buses to the Ecuador-Peru border on Aug. 22.

Many Venezuelans continue south over land. But Peru and Ecuador this month barred immigrants without passports. Ecuador suspended the measure after a judge's order, but the government introduced a requirement for still more documentation. Peru said it would accept children, pregnant women without passports as well as those requesting refugee status.

Brazil President Michel Temer said that the deteriorating situation is increasing tensions not only along the remote northern border, but throughout the region. An influx of as many as 800 Venezuelans per day is overwhelming efforts to vaccinate the new arrivals against measles and other illnesses, and this week soldiers were sent to help with patrols and humanitarian aid. The country is considering restricting border passage by handing out numbered tickets or vouchers, Temer said.

"Our policy and that of international accords is to offer refuge, but the ideal for us is that they receive our humanitarian aid there and could stay there," Temer said.

Freedom Flights

The government has tried to alleviate pressure on remote border towns by relocating some Venezuelans. On Tuesday, television broadcasts showed jets taking off from Boa Vista carrying Venezuelan refugees south. Each was to get a work permit.

They aren't the only migrants in the air -- Maduro earlier this week tried for a public relations coup: On Monday, one day before Peru declared a state of emergency, 89 Venezuelans were flown from Lima . The repatriated group had supposedly contacted the Venezuelan Embassy after xenophobic and inhumane treatment. They arrived in Caracas to applause and tearful embraces. The spectacle was all captured by state television.

“To all who want to return from economic slavery, persecution and hate, stop scrubbing toilets in other countries and come back home,” Maduro said. He spoke from his presidential palace.

— With assistance by Simone Preissler Iglesias, Bruce Douglas, Andrew Rosati, Patricia Laya, Oscar Medina, Raymond Colitt, Stephan Kueffner, and Bill Faries


Story by Matthew Bristow and John Quigley from Bloomberg. August 30, 2018

Venezuela with a border crisis of epic proportions

Andre Coelho/Bloomberg

A Venezuelan migrant stands over a stove at a makeshift camp at Simon Bolivar square in Boa

- Pacaraima riots over influx of refugees. It also profits

- People camp where they can, including Edilson Barros's yard

By Vivianne Rodrigues

Petroleumworld 08 30 2018

The vast numbers of people fleeing Venezuela as it slides into ruin under Nicolas Maduro have reached European proportions. Flooding into Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, the refugees are spurring a humanitarian , economic and political crisis.

Since 2015 more than 1.6 million have left, and the United Nations estimates about 5,000 Venezuelans now cross the porous border each day. South America hasn't seen that sort of population displacement for decades, if ever, and it's taxing both the resources and patience of Venezuela's neighbors.

Peru now requires Venezuelans entering the country to have a valid passport; yesterday it declared an emergency on parts of its border with Ecuador. Brazil's President Michel Temer has authorized the deployment of the army in the border state of Roraima. Many locals have pitched in to help the refugees, but some also complain that drug trafficking and prostitution are rising, and even larger economies like Brazil will find the crisis a stretch.

The situation highlights the dilemma about how to deal with Venezuela itself. Maduro has endured, despite bringing his country to its knees. And while his neighbors wrestle with the fallout, there's no indication they can or will do much about the regime causing it all.

Story by Vivianne Rodrigues from Bloomberg News. 08 29 2018

Venezuelans face riots and violence trapped in brazilian backwater

Migrant camps are burnt at the Venezuela-Brazil border -Play Video -

- Pacaraima riots over influx of refugees. It also profits
- People camp where they can, including Edilson Barros's yard

By Samy Adghirni

Petroleumworld 08 30 2018

A few weeks ago, Edilson Barros was woken by his 14-year-old son. There were people, the kid said, inhabiting the backyard. A family of a dozen Venezuelans had set up camp behind the house in Pacaraima, a small Brazilian border town. Belquis Torres and her family had a tent, a clothesline, a collection of luggage and a few plastic chairs. She now presides over an open-air living room in an incongruously neat skirt and top. Barros brings her water from time to time. The 50-year-old cooling technician, who shares two bedrooms with his wife and seven sons, says he's not charging the Venezuelans rent because they have nowhere else to go. But he fears they will stay long and bring trouble.

Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

Belquis Torres and her family settled in a backyard in Pacaraima.

Across South America, a deluge of Venezuela's desperate is straining public services, local hospitality and the political will to accommodate them. The improvised co-existence of the Barros and Torres clans exemplifies the deteriorating situation in Brazil's north, where the poor are being inundated by the even poorer. With hunger and hyperinflation behind, miles of lawless roads ahead and an increasingly hostile welcome, a community has sprung up in Pacaraima. Compared with Venezuelans who escape to Colombia, Peru or Ecuador, many here have even fewer connections and resources. They often hail from impoverished indigenous and rural communities, speak little Portuguese and live in tents or on the streets. The lucky rent squalid rooms, but any shelter is tenuous. On Aug. 18, a riot was sparked by the beating and robbery of a local merchant for which Venezuelans were blamed. Brazilians chased refugees and burned their scant belongings in the streets, prompting hundreds to flee, including the Torres family. Many crept back after days of protests. “We came back because in Venezuela there's no job, no food and money doesn't buy anything,” said Torres, 40, who has worked as a cook, nanny and maid. “I came to Brazil with the idea of finding a job. And it's still my plan to find a job, any job. We didn't come as invaders.”

Overtaxed Outpost

Pacaraima has about 12,000 official Brazilian residents. But since 2015, more than 70,000 refugees have arrived in surrounding Roraima state, representing almost 15 percent of the population. There are only 10 shelters accommodating around 4,800 people, according to Ana Seabra, spokeswoman for Operation Welcome, which Brazil's federal government created in March to respond to the influx. Pressure is building everywhere. The number of Venezuelan children in Roraima public schools increased 400 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to the governor's press office, and the number of Venezuelans who received treatment in public hospitals rose to 50,286 in 2017, up from 766 in 2014.

Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

Most of the border in Pacaraima is a simple line of stones in open grassland.

In Pacaraima, there is one official crossing point where an average of 700 Venezuelans pass through each day, but the border is a simple line of stones marching across open grassland. Refugees used to head south toward Boa Vista, Roraima's capital, or larger cities. Now, many stay. “If violence erupts again against us, I can run a couple of hundred meters and cross the border back to Venezuela. But now I'd feel too vulnerable in Boa Vista or anywhere else,” said Alfredo Rodriguez, a 59-year-old former security guard.

Hurting Words

Pacaraima has hundreds of small stores catering to Venezuelans lining its partially paved streets. Many signs are in Spanish and many locals use Venezuelan words such as “efectivo” for cash and “atracado” -- robbed. Those without a place in shelters or a job live in the streets or insalubrious and overcrowded rooms. Norelis Gonzalez, who sleeps in the Pacaraima bus station with her sister, said both hid in the bushes for a whole night after the riots. "Since my ID was burned, I can't even apply for legal residency,” she said.

Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

Venezuelan refugees sit next to a scrapped bus in Pacaraima.

Carlos Noguera, a 35-year-old Venezuelan who found work in a market, said he lives in constant fear. "If I knew the situation in Pacaraima was so tense, I wouldn't have come,” he said. “But now my family in Venezuela relies on the money I send." Even as locals have built a small economy around the new residents, they complain that drug trafficking and prostitution are increasing. Crimes involving Venezuelans in Roraima rose 173 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the governor's press office.

Pacaraima's Martyr

The victim of the attack that triggered Pacaraima's riot is 55-year-old supermarket owner Raimundo Nonato de Oliveira. He said four Venezuelans beat him and stole the equivalent of $6,000 as he arrived home after work. Sitting outside his shop last week with 13 ragged stitches in his head and a black eye, Oliveira was repeatedly approached by people who wanted to hear the story. Many Venezuelans shook his hand and apologized.

Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

South American borders have been traditionally porous, but across the region, governments are trying to regulate the flow. The border at Pacaraima was briefly closed before a court intervened. This month, Peru began requiring that Venezuelans hold a valid passport, halting scores of travelers. Ecuador tried the same thing, but established a “humanitarian corridor” after hundreds crossed the country by foot anyway. The U.S. is spending more than $56 million on development and humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans in the region, and is deploying a Navy hospital ship to Colombian waters in September.

The UN High Commissioner is halfway to funding its $46.1 million mission .

Luring the Needy
Though Brazil's shelters hold relatively few refugees, some politicians oppose them.

Raimundo Nonato de Oliveira

Pacaraima Mayor Juliano Torquato said that Operation Welcome simply is encouraging Venezuelans to come. “The situation is getting worse by the day and no one is really helping us,” he said.

But Torquato and local businessmen said shutting the border would devastate the economy. Almost 70 percent of Pacaraima consumers are Venezuelans, said Joao Kleber Soares Borges, the head of the local business association. “What we request is simply more control on who is allowed in, and more support from the federal government,” he said.

Samy Adghirni/Bloomberg

Belquis Torres

As politicians struggle to find a solution, Venezuelans like Belquis Torres are left to wonder how long they will have to survive in places like Edilson Barros's backyard. “I have no idea what's next for us,” she said. “For the time being, all I'm asking is for him to allow us to stay.” — With assistance by Gabriel Shinohara, and Andrew Rosati _________________________

Story by Samy Adghirni from Bloomberg News. 08 28 2018



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