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Pacaraima: Venezuelans seek better fortunes across Brazil's border

Fanny Lothaire, France 24 | Facilities at the High Commission for Refugees’ encampment for refugee indigenous Warao people. Meals are provided daily by the United Nations and the Brazilian army.

In the small border town of Pacaraima in northern Brazil, Venezuelans are arriving by the hundreds every day.

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Fleeing hunger, medicine shortages and hyperinflation back home, many arrive on foot with all their belongings in tow, looking to start a new life in Brazil.

They’re a part of the mass exodus of Venezuelans that’s grown to over two million people in the last several years, making it one of the world’s largest migrations. In this small border outpost of just 12,000 people, the sudden influx has strained services and created rising tensions between Brazilians and Venezuelans.

In mid-August, Brazilians attacked and burned down Venezuelan encampments in the town, sending many running back over to the other side of the border.

“I’m terrified here now,” said Gineth Manzol, a week after the attack. She’s been living on the streets in the border town, trying to pick up work as a day labourer in order to buy supplies to send back to her two daughters in Venezuela, but the food and toiletries she had bought were burned in the fire in the attack.

“It took me two months to get the money to buy those things, I am completely devastated,” she said.

“I’m desperate to get out of here and go somewhere else in Brazil, somewhere with more work and less hostility, but I have no money to leave,” she said. “Plus, any money I do have, I need to save for my girls.”

Brazilians organised a small protest a week after the attacks – they say the Brazilian government is only taking care of Venezuelans and is not looking out for their rights and their safety. Xiomariya Muñoz, a Venezuelan migrant living in Pacaraima, stood on the sidelines observing.

“I’m not a criminal, I’m a worker. I work hard for my children,” Muñoz said. “I cried and cried after the attacks. I can’t believe what we’re going through here. I’d do anything for President Maduro to be gone so we could return to Venezuela.”

Rojelio and his family before boarding a shared taxi toward their new life.
Rojelio and his family before boarding a shared taxi toward their new life. Fanny Lothaire, France 24

Norelys Rojas and her two children are among the latest Venezuelans to arrive at Brazil’s border. They hope to continue further south to Manaus, the de facto capital of the Amazon, but they’re stuck. But with the Venezuelan Bolívar’s inflation at nearly one million percent, Roja’s modest cash savings become less and less valuable by the minute, and the exchange rates she’s finding at the border put her about €30 short of the money she needs for a bus fare.

After the recent violence, Brazilian authorities try to clear out any Venezuelans living on the streets by sundown, forcing hundreds of Venezuelans into a sort of limbo in the kilometre separating the two border posts. They sleep under an awning of an inspection outpost operated by the Venezuelan government. Every morning around 5am, they’re cleared out and walk back into Brazil.

“I just want to continue on my journey and work,” Rojas said. “There is no way to live in Venezuela, we were going hungry,” adding that all they’ve eaten for the last few days was white rice.

“Even though it’s been hard, I knew I had to get my children out of there. My children give me the force to continue on.”

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