PACARAIMA, Brazil – The situation has always been difficult at the border between Venezuela and Brazil, but xenophobia has slowly begun to poison the northern Brazilian city of Pacaraima, where immigrants have been blamed for growing violence in the region.
“I want to get out of here quickly,” said 25-year-old Venezuelan Rober Solano.
Solano’s history is not unique and seems to be passed down from migrant to migrant, who, after crossing the border, quickly see how their hopes and dreams of a better life vanish when they face the rejection of the local population in Pacaraima, the entrance to Brazil.
“We want to leave Pacaraima because the situation here is difficult,” Solano told Efe.
“We face a lot of danger in the street. I don’t want to stay here because the police can attack us.
“I want to get out of here quickly.”
Despite the despair at the border, Solano wants to enter Brazilian territory.
Like many of his compatriots who are fleeing hunger, lack of work and food shortages, he plans to continue his journey and move to Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, from where many Venezuelans are relocated and taken to other urban centres in Brazil, like Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Recife.
The fear of suffering attacks in Pacaraima is latent and persistent, said Solano, who, despite recognizing that Venezuelan immigrants may also face difficulties in Boa Vista, said the regional capital “is quieter” and offers better opportunities than the border.
Brazil’s vice president General Hamilton Mourao visited Pacaraima on Thursday to soothe tensions in the border region following several days of protests against an increase in violence in the area after the rape of a girl on her way to school, allegedly by a Venezuelan citizen.
The attack led to local demonstrations against immigrants, but the situation went back to normal in the middle of the week, with a tense stillness and with soldiers, military police and heavily armed federal agents patrolling the streets of the impoverished border town.
“We suffer a lot (of xenophobia). Prejudice,” Solano said.
“If a person is bad, everyone pays for it.
“There are good people and bad people all around the world.”
“In Venezuela, we have them (bad people) and in Brazil too,” he added.
“What is going on is that now, Brazil is not going through a situation like Venezuela.”
In Pacaraima, there were 432 entries and 122 departures a day of citizens from the neighboring country in January, according to a report released this week by Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which coordinates the integration of Venezuelans.
Fabio Macedo, 34, who has lived in Pacaraima since he was a child, said not all Venezuelans arrive in Brazil to “rob and steal,” but the increase in violence, such as stabbings, coincided with the increase of migrant arrivals.
“You cannot leave the door open or walk down the street because you are under threat all the time,” he warned.
“We are not against the arrival of Venezuelans, we know that there are people who need it, and, if they come peacefully, they will be received with open doors, but if they do it violently, they will have violence.”
After a year and three months in Pacaraima, Francisco Inacio, 44, criticized the presence of the National Public Security Force, an elite group of police sent to the area that, according to Inacio, “is a waste of money, it is money thrown away” because the contingent “does nothing in favor of the Brazilian community.”
Inacio said electricity and health services, which have always been scarce in the region, are given to the Venezuelan community first, which has generators and motors to pump water, while Brazilian residents “are at the mercy of luck and have to raise children with insecurity.”
Manoel Silva Coelho, also a resident of Pacaraima, said the increase in demand for services by Venezuelans also put education in a challenging position, as schools do not have enough space for children from both countries.
“It is not prejudice, but you have to put your house in order first, we have to take care of the Brazilian people and then, then, tend to Venezuelans who come looking for work,” Inacio said.