Brazil will send army troops to patrol its northern border after violence erupted between locals and Venezuelan migrants. With thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their country each week, neighbouring states are struggling to cope with the influx. The BBC reports there are more than a million Venezuelans in Colombia, more than half a million in Ecuador, more than 400,000 in Peru and some 60,000 in Brazil.
Brazilian President Michel Temer said in a televised address last week that “The problem of Venezuela is no longer one of internal politics. It is a threat to the harmony of the whole continent.” According to the BBC, one Brazilian minister warned Brazil “needs to discipline” the influx of migrants. This attitude arose in response to recent events, such as in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima where fighting broke out last week in the camps constructed by Venezuelan migrants. Local residents burned down makeshift camps and forced thousands of Venezuelans back across the border, supposedly in response to a robbery. While Venezuelan migrants have received a mixed welcome in neighbouring states, this was the first incident of large-scale violence directed against them.
The political and economic crisis continues to grow in Venezuela, where one out of five live in poverty and there is an acute shortage of food and medicine. Last week, a report by the UN stated that 5,000 people have been arbitrarily detained by the government of Nicolas Maduro, outlining credible reports of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. “Some 2.3 million citizens have fled the country since 2014, sparking the worst migration crisis in Latin American history,” according to the United Nations. At present, 700 to 800 Venezuelans enter Brazil every day, and Temer has proposed limiting that to between 100 and 200.
The Brazilian state most affected, Roraima, has requested the Supreme Court temporarily stop migrants entering, claiming its social services cannot manage. In response, a judge dismissed the request and Brazilian Security Minister Sergio Etchegoyen commented that closing the border was “unthinkable, because it is illegal.”
The UNHCR has asked South American nations to show “more solidarity with the Venezuelans who are migrating en mass in the region.” The immediate response, from neighbouring states, must be policies aimed at protecting migrants, not the opposite. The addition of army personnel along the Brazilian border could mitigate further altercations, but it may also be a precursor to restricting freedom of movement. Restrictions are already being implemented in Ecuador and Peru, such as requiring passports instead of national ID cards from Venezuelan migrants.
In the long-term, stabilizing the situation in Venezuela is the ultimate goal. However, that appears a long way off. The UN said last week Venezuela is heading for the same refugee “crisis moment” seen in the Mediterranean in 2015. To assist with the displacement of Venezuelans, the UN is on track to raise $46 million to work “in support of national responses by governments.” But, given the growing magnitude of the crisis, with the number of refugees fleeing Venezuela predicted to double from around 2 million today, to around 4 million over the next two years; the UN, American states and international community will need to increase their relief efforts on the ground.
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