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29 Aug, 2018 01:51

Brazil sending troops to Venezuelan border amid massive refugee influx

Brazil sending troops to Venezuelan border amid massive refugee influx

The Brazilian President has ordered the army to be deployed to the borderline state of Roraima shortly after clashes broke out between the locals and Venezuelans fleeing their country's economic and political problems.

In a statement on Tuesday, Brazil's President Michel Temer said that the military deployment he authorized on Tuesday is aimed at ensuring the security of both Brazilians and Venezuelan refugees, who have been pouring into one of the Brazil's poorest and least populated states en masse.

The government of Roraima, Brazil's northernmost state, has long urged federal authorities to stem the migrant flow overwhelming the small town of Pacaraima with a population of some 12,000.

An estimated 1,000 Venezuelan refugees were forced to sleep on the streets when a local storeowner was attacked in mid-August, in an incident blamed on foreigners. It sparked violent skirmishes that saw angry locals setting refugees' belongings on fire and throwing rocks at them. Several shots were fired during the altercation, and over 1,200 migrants were forced to cross the border back to Venezuela.

The Brazilian government responded to the unrest by sending 60 troops to assist local police, with Roraima state Governor Suely Campos asking the government to beef up security against a spike in crime, and temporarily shut down the border.

Justifying his move to send the troops that would be stationed in the northern and eastern areas of the state as well as on federal highways from August 29 to September 12, Temer said that the government took the urgent action in light of an "ever more intense flow" of arrivals from crisis-hit Venezuela, battling food shortages, skyrocketing inflation and unemployment.

The Brazilian authorities estimate that about 600-700 Venezuelans cross into Brazil from Venezuela daily. While the steady influx has put a strain on the Roraima authorities and has reportedly driven up the crime rate, only about 20-30 percent of Venezuelans remain in the country while others move on to Peru and Chile. Colombia has also been impacted by the Venezuelan exodus, with authorities estimating that some 3,000 Venezuelans cross into the country every day either to apply for temporary residence or move further to Ecuador or Peru.

With no end in sight to the Venezuelan economic turmoil, Peru and Ecuador have tightened checks at the border, demanding that migrants have valid passports with them. Before that, those who wanted to enter the country legally had only to produce ID.

Speaking about the broader implications of Venezuela's refugee problem, Temer argued that since it has transcended several borders it's no longer an internal issue, but "a threat to the harmony of the whole continent." He added that Brazil is "going to seek the support of the international community to adopt diplomatic measures to solve these problems."