• A Warao Indigenous family is seen next to the Ayrton Senna viaduct in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, on May 9th, 2017. (Raphael Alves/AFP/Getty Images)Source: Raphael Alves/AFP/Getty Images
About 250 Indigenous Venezuelans from the Warao tribe have recently travelled more than 1800 kilometres by canoe and other means, to reach the Amazonian capital city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, where more than 300 Waraos already live in make-shift camps.
NITV Staff Writer

10 May 2017 - 4:01 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2017 - 4:09 PM

The Manaus local government has declared itself in a state of emergency due to the arrival of hundreds of Indigenous Venezuelans from the Warao tribe, originally from the Orinoco Delta in north-western Venezuela.

"They are fleeing the economic crisis in Venezuela… They come, sell handicrafts, beg for money on the streets, buy food and take it back to their families in Venezuela," Municipal Social Welfare Secretary, Elias  Emanuel told AFP.

The Waraos are just the latest group of Venezuelans known to flee the oil-rich country, which is ailing from a deep socio-economic and political crisis, and violent social unrest. It is estimated more that 2 million Venezuelans have left the country since the late President Hugo Chavez's 'Bolivarian Revolution' was installed 18 years ago.

Over the last month, millions of Venezuelans have been protesting on the streets, demanding the opening of a 'humanitarian channel' to allow foreign aid into the country, as a means to end the country's severe food and medicine shortages. Ongoing violent clashes with security forces have left close to 40 people dead.

Manaus Mayor, Arthur Virgilio Neto, said he had asked the Brazilian federal government for assistance in dealing with the crisis. He explained there were already about 355 Waraos in the city, many of whom had warned authorities they were expecting more of their family members to make the journey.

"We weren't ready for this," the Mayor explained.

Manaus authorities are striving to find shelter for the Indigenous Venezuelans living in tents along the state highway, as a matter of priority.

Mayor Virgilio Neto explained his government is organising a medical and vaccination campaign to help those with ailments and malnutrition. There have already been two confirmed Warao deaths in Manaus, a city of over 2 million people, one of them a baby.

Despite the city's efforts, local church organisations and charities say the Waraos have been poorly treated and ill received.Paula Lorenzo, from the Manaus Archdiocese, said the Waraos were being exploited in Brazil.

"They live in insanitary conditions. Some are paying between 10 and 30 reales (3 to 9 US dollars) a day to rent rooms that are not suitable as living quarters, all because they have no support or networks here," she said.  

Both Mayor Virgilio Neto and Municipal Secretary Emanuel said Venezuelan authorities haven't taken any responsibility for the situation.

"The [Venezuelan] Consulate has come along to meetings, more like an observer, rather than a protagonist… They are not taking responsibility for their own citizens," Mr Emanuel said.   

The Venezuelan General Council in Manaus, Faustino Torella, has not responded to AFP's request for comment.   

So far this year, Brazil has received over 8,000 asylum and refugee requests from Venezuelan citizens. Social activists in Manaus explain Indigenous Venezuelans rarely go through the formal process.  According to the Venezuelan Census in 2011, there are 48,771 Venezuelan Waraos.

But Manaus isn't the only Brazilian city feeling the crunch of the Venezuelan diaspora.

In April, Human Rights Watch reported that the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis was spilling into Brazil at an alarming rate, as “more than 12,000 Venezuelans had entered and stayed in Brazil since 2014, according to official sources”.

Human Rights Watch Report:

It was first reported Waraos started migrating to Brazil in 2014, especially to the Boa Vista and Roraima areas.

According to an investigative report published by news portal Amazonia Real, 532 Indigenous Venezuelans were deported between 2014 and 2016 but the Brazilian Federal Police.

The Human Rights report states: “the demand for health care by Venezuelans is making it increasingly difficult for the state’s public health system to meet the needs of all its patients, both Brazilian and Venezuelan.

“The General Hospital of Roraima, which serves 80 percent of adults in the state, provided care to 1,815 Venezuelans in 2016, up more than three-fold from 2015. In February 2017, the hospital’s director told Human Rights Watch that the facility was treating an average of 300 Venezuelan patients a month.”

The BBC has reported that according to the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, more than 5,400 Venezuelan have applied for visas and residency permits to stay in the country.

With AFP