Fish and taro were the only food Milagros Ribero, 35, and her family could find in their little community in the Orinoco River Delta, home of the Warao, the second largest indigenous group in Venezuela. In June they made the 500-mile journey to Brazil.
“We came searching for food,” Ribero says near her tent in the Janokoida shelter, recently set up for the Warao in the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima.
Each day hundreds of struggling Venezuelans arrive at the border, carrying stuff on their backs and documents in their hands. The journey has become more harrowing as Brazilians have begun to lash out at the influx of refugees pouring into their country, putting a strain on limited services. After recent attacks, some Venezuelans have crossed the border back into their home country. Those seeking a better life in Brazil have sold TVs, cell phones, clothes—everything they own—to pay for the trip. They hope to find food, medicine, safety, and jobs in Brazil, basics they no longer can get in their home country because of its free-falling economy, staggering inflation, high rates of violence, and chronic food and medicine shortages. It’s the fallout from a breathtaking collapse in Venezuela, which rode an oil boom from 2004 to 2014 to become one of Latin America’s richest nations, then saw its fortunes tumble amid falling oil prices, soaring government deficits, and persistent corruption.
Since 2017 more than 58,000 Venezuelans have settled in Brazil, the largest migratory movement between the two countries in history. The border region mainly had been known as a place for adventure travelers in search of Mount Roraima, the 9,219-foot plateau that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World, which imagines encounters between explorers and dinosaurs. But no adventure awaits those who make it to Brazil. Many run out of money and have their journeys stalled in Pacaraima, which not long ago was a quiet town of 12,375 but now is where hundreds, and likely more, live on the streets, sleeping in tents and parking lots. They gather on sidewalks and cook what they can find, mostly rice, pasta, and beans. Tensions between Pacaraima residents and Venezuelans entering Brazil exploded in August: Frustrated residents set fire to camps created for migrants by the government after an alleged attack on a local shop owner.