How Venezuelan Refugees Are Surviving in Brazil (Americas Quarterly)
For most Brazilians, the disaster unfolding in neighboring Venezuela is little more than another passing topic on the evening news. The daily protests in Caracas are more than 2,500 miles away from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, cultural ties between the two countries are limited, and the current political and economic crisis in Brazil reduces the airtime reserved for discussing foreign affairs even more than usual.
Not so in the Brazilian state of Roraima and its capital Boa Vista, the country’s only state capital north of the equator, where Venezuelans fleeing violence, poverty or the lack of even basic medicine have become a common sight – at the city’s intersections, washing windshields, selling sweets or simply asking for some change.
“Things really changed over the past year in Boa Vista,” one cab driver told me during a recent trip to the border region to study the growing number of refugees. “There are prostitutes in the streets, offering their services in broad daylight, for all the children to see,” he says, pointing in the direction of the neighborhood popularly known today as Ochenta, or “Eighty,” a reference to the price supposedly charged by Venezuelan sex workers close to the city’s popular food market.
Such views are commonly heard in Roraima, but tend to exaggerate the negative impact of refugees, says Julia Camargo, a professor of international relations at the Federal University of Roraima who studies the topic. There is no hard evidence that the growing number of Venezuelans has led to an increase in crime. But the influx has posed clear challenges for a country that takes pride in its centuries-old image as a welcome refuge for immigrants, but is also straining under rising unemployment and its worst recession in at least 100 years.
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