Judge says entry of immigrants suspended until conditions for ‘humanitarian reception’ are created – activists called it ‘absurd’
A judge in Brazil has blocked Venezuelans from entering the border state of Roraima as local authorities harden their stance against the flood of migrants fleeing hunger and hardship in their home country.
Judge Helder Barreto said he had suspended the entry of Venezuelan immigrants until the conditions for a “humanitarian reception” are created but activists working with migrants attacked it as “absurd”.
Sister Telma Lage from the non-profit Migration and Human Rights Institute, which helps vulnerable migrants in Roraima’s capital Boa Vista, said the judge had overstepped his authority.
“[Venezuelans] are entering Brazil and seeking refuge because of the vulnerable situation they find themselves in,” she said. “What we fear is the lack of options for those near to the border.”
Under the late Hugo Chávez, who ushered in Venezuela’s socialist revolution in 1999, a new constitution and numerous elections placed nearly all government institutions under the control of the ruling Socialist party.
This concentration of power was aided by a feuding opposition which carried out ineffectual campaigns and electoral boycotts. After Chávez died of cancer in 2013, he was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro who is even less tolerant of dissent.
Growing political authoritarianism has coincided with greater state dominance over the economy. But expropriations, price controls and mismanagement have led to a 40% contraction of the economy in the past five years.
Oil accounts for 96% of Venezuela’s export income but many foreign companies have been driven out and production has dropped to a 30-year low.
The resulting fiscal crisis has prompted the government to print more money, which has led to hyperinflation and a collapse of the currency.
It also means that the government can’t import enough food and medicine to meet demand.
Maduro has rejected economic reforms out of loyalty to socialism and because many government officials are allegedly getting rich off the economic distortions – through exchange rate scams and by selling scarce food on the black market.
Since 2015, more than 56,000 Venezuelans have sought refuge or residency in Brazil amid continuing political turmoil and economic collapse in their home country.
But the flood of migrants has severely stretched health and education services in the poor state of Roraima.
“There is no point in welcoming Venezuelan immigrants if they are going to be subjected to equal or more degrading conditions here,” said Judge Barreto.
Suely Campos, the Roraima state governor, welcomed the ruling and blamed the federal government for a “total” lack of support. “It’s us who are dealing with a social tragedy on our frontiers,” Campos said in a statement.
Campos first requested Brazil’s supreme court to close the border, in a lawsuit which also asked the government to refund $49m her administration said it had spent on refugees.
On 1 August, she raised the stakes with a state decree ordering Venezuelans to show passports before accessing health and security services and directing police to deport any migrants who committed crimes.
The state said health attendances had increased 6,500% last year alone and crimes had increased 132% since 2015, and increase which it attributed to migrants.
But Sister Lage said that most migrants do not have passports so the decree effectively excluded migrants from receiving heathcare.
Prosecutors and Brazil’s Public Defence Office went to court to try and overturn the decree, arguing that immigrants entering Brazil in Roraima were in a situation of “extreme vulnerability” and that effectively banning them from accessing health services would create the risk of epidemics – especially as Roraima is currently battling a measles outbreak.
On Sunday, Judge Barreto agreed to suspend the decree’s clauses on passports and deportation but also closed the border to Venezuelans – a request neither the Public Defence Office nor federal prosecutors had requested. They now plan to appeal.
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