June 7, 2023

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Brazil sends Venezuelan migrants to cities in the south of the country

A resident of San Felix quit his job at the mine because of the violence.

As the sun rose, Miguel González, his partner Marilis Rodriguez and their four young children disembarked from a passenger bus after an 18-hour journey south from the eastern Venezuelan community.

Before entering the station, the parents, their minds still dazed from sleep, carried two duffel bags and assessed the needs: a diaper change for a 1-year-old. Bath for 2, 4 and 6 year olds. Ways to get to Brazil

“Car? Taxi?” Taxi drivers asked everyone who passed through the Santa Elena de Uyren station, where every month thousands of people make their last walk through Venezuelan territory.

Half an hour later, the Gonzalez family, like dozens of others every day, became international migrants for the first time when they stepped out of a taxi in Bacaraima, Brazil.

Brazil has become a popular choice for many Venezuelans, thanks to a five-year program that offers work permits to qualified applicants and free flights to remote areas of the large country.

Approvals for the program have soared in the post-pandemic period.

“I want to give my children a good life,” said Gonzalez, who began her plan to settle in October after witnessing violent clashes near the gold mine where she worked.

He commented that being in Venezuela was “not life,” because if the family stayed there, the children “wouldn’t study, they wouldn’t have a future.”

The Gonzalez family applied to Brazil’s “prevention” program, launched in 2018, to ease pressure on the country’s north-western state of Roraima as it crosses Venezuela after the coronavirus intensified, leaving the country with food and medicine shortages.

The program moves immigrants to other cities with better economic opportunities, particularly in the nation’s wealthier southern states.

It has welcomed around 100,000 of the 426,000 Venezuelans who migrated to Brazil during the crisis, and recorded the highest monthly rate so far in March this year with 3,377.

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I worked in the mines

The González family began their journey with $500, packing their refrigerator, fan, stove, bed and other furniture, clothes and diapers into duffel bags and backpacks.

They spent $90 to travel to Santa Elena de Uyren and $20 to travel to Bacaraima, where they applied for the program.

Although González has one of the most lucrative jobs in Venezuela, earning about $600 a fortnight, sometimes up to $1,200, well above the country’s minimum wage of $5.

But mining communities are dangerous because armed groups are believed to be cooperating with authorities.

“There are many crimes. You are and you are not. Understand me?” Gonzalez said.

Those accepted into the hospitalization program receive documentation, temporary accommodation, vaccinations and transfer flights. It also provides training on the labor market, laws and rights in Brazil.

Brazil’s monthly minimum wage is currently $265. A survey conducted in June and July of last year in 800 households of 3,529 Venezuelans living in Brazil showed that 76% of them earned up to two minimum wages.

Applicants have to submit documents and undergo a physical test and interview.

Another family

On a morning in early April, María Rodríguez, her father, husband, daughter, two sons, twin grandsons and four cousins ​​were among hundreds of people at the Pasaraima border crossing, following in the program’s footsteps.

He smiled with great energy with a grandson, but his eyes showed weariness.

At dawn, migrants form lines waiting to receive or deliver information.

They celebrate when they or their new immigrant friends are told they can board waiting commuter buses to go to Boa Vista, 200 kilometers south, where they catch flights to their new communities.

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Rodríguez’s team had already been waiting six weeks in Pacaraima. She spent nights in a shelter, sheltering from the scorching sun under a makeshift tent.

The family decided to close their unprofitable cheese-making business in Venezuela this year and join other relatives in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, where the men plan to work in construction.

Rodriguez said her other child, who already lives there, has done well in a very short time.

“His children are in a good school, and I see my other children … I see them struggling to fend for themselves,” said Rodriguez, 45, as he waited for the small toilets to be cleaned for the day.

“Great, how can you tell a child that there is no food, even with the Arab all day, with those children?” said.

Elsewhere in the hemisphere, Venezuelans are making their second or third migration as economic opportunities dry up in the initial host countries.

Most of those who cross the border into Brazil are migrating for the first time, said the director of the Jesuit Service for Migrants and Refugees in Brazil, Rev. Agnaldo Pereira de Oliveira said.

“These are the people who have endured it until now and (can’t) anymore,” Pereira de Oliveira said. “Now finally people who protested in Venezuela because of their attachment to their business are coming home. ‘I have a job here, but there is no living environment here’.”

Crowded cities

Brazil’s absorption program took shape after the tensions of the mid-to-late 2010s, when Venezuelans overran public services in Roraima, which includes both Pasaraima and Boa Vista.

At one point, a man set fire to two Venezuelan residences, injuring five people.

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Southern Brazilian states like Paraná are not without their challenges for Venezuelans. There they have to deal with a much colder climate than they are used to, and their lack of fluency in Portuguese can sometimes be a barrier to formal jobs, meaning some of them end up as street vendors or Uber drivers.

In Boa Vista, shelters are long standing, but many adults and children sleep on sidewalks or outside the bus station. Some find the shelters overcrowded and too hot. Others don’t feel safe or don’t like forced early awakenings.

On the west bank of the Franco River, next to Boa Vista, members of the Figueira family cook, wash clothes, splash in the water or rest in the shade of trees. His hair is sprinkled with sand.

Gisperlin Figueira, 11, her father, stepmother and little sister are on their second attempt to legally move to Paraná. They gave up on their first attempt to have the baby near her extended family in Garubano, Venezuela.

Gisperlin learned some Portuguese and befriended other immigrant women. They mock and play tag or cards near the sleeping area outside the bus station.

She said she misses her family, but access to water in Boa Vista — at public restrooms near the beach — is better than what she had at home.

Sitting by the river, Parana envisioned “more parks, more food, more money, more water for bathing and drinking.”

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