Venezuela: Crisis Across The Borders

The tragedy of Venezuela is having repercussions across the borders. One to the south, the border with Brazil. The other one to the west, across the Colombian border.

To the south is the border with Brazil: a thousand-kilometre-long wild and winding track that extends across the mountains and crosses the Amazon Rainforest. The second, to the west, passes across the Colombian border zone. The Colombian border of Cúcuta is located along the porous border which in the course of the years became a place of illegal trafficking and of daily stories of encounter, friendship and family relationships. There are refugees also in Guyana, to the east, as well as in the Caribbean islands, that are not very distant from the Venezuelan coast.

The situation in Brazil grows worse every day. The border city of Paracaima, in the State of Roraima, is on its last legs. According to Caritas-Brazil, every day some 200 migrants cross the Southern border to seek shelter in Brazil.

Asylum requests in the first months of 2017 have already exceeded the overall number of those filed in the past 6 years, according to data released by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice. Until past May national authorities received 8,231 asylum requests, compared 3,375 in 2016. At present, according to Caritas, some 30 000 Venezuelan immigrants live in the city of Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima; 2.000 of them, according to the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) are members of the indigenous Warao. “Venezuelan people are fleeing as a result of the current political situation, owing to lack of food and for economic reasons”, said Luiz Cláudio Mandela, executive director of Caritas Brazil.

Roraima is the most affected Brazilian State. “The borders with Venezuela are practically uncontrolled – said the Caritas Director. – Crowds of migrants converge in Boa Vista, where a gym has been transformed into a temporary reception centre, home to some 400 migrant people, but the requests exceed this number. They seek shelter also in other cities, like Manaus, the capital city of the State of Amazonas. Here the local authorities declared a state of social emergency due to the massive inflow of members of the Warao indigenous people”.

The Caritas Director pointed out that reception efforts are largely on the shoulders “of local Churches, especially in the dioceses of Boa Vista and Manaus”. As regards migrant reception “priority is given to children and women.” The Brazilian Church and Caritas have launched a public awareness campaign and a fundraising campaign.

The other hot border is the Colombian one. Here migrants arrive on a daily basis, but increasing numbers settle down in the neighbouring country. The daily exodus is a result of the lack of food and essential commodities in Venezuela.

In order to meet the needs of the Venezuelan population the diocese of Cúcuta has launched the initiative, put in place already across a number of Venezuelan cities, of the “Ollas comunitarias”, informal solidarity-based soup-kitchens to meet the needs of the most indigent.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis and the Holy See have made three priorities in the face of the dramatic situation in Venezuela: to allow food and medicine to enter, define the date of the elections and free political prisoners.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Pope, the Vatican Secretary of State and the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference have repeatedly asked institutions and the political forces to overcome their ideological interests and to listen to the voice of the people. The Holy See has always urged all political leaders to commit themselves to putting an end to violence. Since the beginning of April, there have been at least 75 victims following the clashes between demonstrators and police forces and violence does not stop.

– Bruno Desidera

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