Over the last three years, the number of Venezuelan refugees arriving at Brazil’s border have skyrocketed by 22,122 percent. While Brazil faces a deep economic recession, its neighboring oil country deals with a full-on economic disaster. Not to mention the incomparable political turmoil and public unrest. Thus, Venezuelans are flocking to Brazil in hopes of finding a better life.
In 2016, 2,000 more Venezuelans requested asylum in Brazil’s border state of Roraima. Back in 2014, the federal police counted 9 asylum requests. Then, in 2015, that number went up to 230. But as the economic crisis deepened last year under Nicholas Maduro’s administration, Venezuelans came in greater droves to the border.
And this year, more Venezuelans are coming than ever before. The Roraima immigration police have scheduled at least 4,000 asylum requests just this year, all of them from Venezuelans. Hours before the immigration office opens in the state capital of Boa Vista, lines are already stretching down the street. Some have come with their families, while others come alone in hopes of finding work before bringing their wives and children.
According to international law, refugee status is reserved for those fleeing religious, racial, ethnic, or political persecution. Of the thousands of Venezuelans requesting asylum last year, only 5 received the status. Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees (Conare) awards asylum to those that fit the description by international law.
Closing open borders
The border between the two countries has historically been quite friendly and open. Last year, however, the Venezuelan president Maduro closed the border due to illegal money traffickers crossing currency into the country. Others were looking to purchase food or to seek medical assistance unavailable in Venezuela.
The hundreds of Venezuelans who had been crossing into Brazil freely now face new restrictions, imposed by their own President. Meanwhile, on the Brazilian side, local authorities have opened a shelter to accommodate the new arrivals. The state has also launched initiatives to integrate indigenous Venezuelan arrivals with local native groups.