Indigenous Warao Fleeing Venezuela Face Challenges in Brazil

Indigenous Warao from Venezuela in the streets of Boa Vista, Roraima in northern Brazil. / September 18, 2017 / Yolanda Mêne/Amazônia Real / Flickr

The economic crisis in Venezuela has forced thousands to leave the struggling South American country in what has become a migration crisis. The exodus has caused particular strain for Venezuela’s neighbors, Colombia and Brazil.

While most migrants continue to face difficulties after they leave Venezuela, some face greater challenges than others.

Peter Prengaman reports for the Associated Press from the town of Pacaraima in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima on challenges faced by the indigenous Warao people.

The Warao people number in the tens of thousands and traditionally inhabit the Orinoco River delta area in Venezuela.

While conditions in Brazil are certainly better than in Venezuela, the Warao migrants find themselves in a concerning situation. Prengaman reports that upwards of 500 Warao men, women, and children sleep on hammocks or the concrete floor in a repurposed warehouse designed for 250 people in Pacaraima.

“Traditionally poor and marginalized in Venezuela, the Warao are arriving with even more health problems than other Venezuelans,” writes Prengaman. “Those health needs, combined with cultural and linguistic differences, mean authorities have no choice but to set up shelters just for them — and hope they can return to their home lands in Venezuela as integrating them into Brazilian society doesn’t appear realistic.”

Luis Fernando Pere, a lead volunteer with Fraternity International Humanitarian Federation, described the situation of Venezuelan migrants as “precarious,” but added, “The Warao are arriving in even worse shape.”

Language, cultural, and prejudicial barriers separate the Warao from other migrants from Venezuela and the local Brazilians. Warao described being turned away from work, while local residents describe frustration with Warao beggers.

The federal government is discussing possible plans to deal with the Warao migrants, including the establishment of a “base of support” administered by the army. The National Indian Foundation is meeting with Warao leaders and local indigenous groups in Roraima. However, details of any such plan are vague and Prengaman reports that his emails and calls were not answered.

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