Key Brazilian border crossing for Venezuela refugees reopens as asylum numbers pass last year’s total

Some 117,000 Venezuelans have claimed asylum already this year — more than for the whole of 2017 — the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday, after welcoming a decision by the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court to reverse the closure of the country’s border with its northern neighbour.

“UNHCR welcomes last night’s decision of the Court to overturn a decision by a Federal Judge in Roraima border state, to suspend admission of Venezuelans to the country and close the border,” said the agency’s spokesperson William Spindler.

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UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno
Warao community leader Eligio Tejerina, 33, sits in a hammock at Pintolandia Shelter in Boa Vista, northern Brazil, to which he and his family fled to escape conflict and instability in their native Venezuela, May 2018.

In Geneva, Mr. Spindler added that hundreds of Venezuelans cross into Brazil’s northern Roraima state near the small border city of Pacaraima every day, in search of safety.

The route was blocked temporarily on Monday, when the frontier was closed in line with the initial decision by a federal judge in Roraima. Hours later it was overturned by Brazil’s higher federal court.

More than 200 Venezuelans were unable to finalize their immigration registration during the brief closure on Monday, but they were not deported or pushed back over the border, according to the UN agency.

Today, Brazil is home to more than 32,700 Venezuelan asylum seekers; another 25,000 are legally permitted to stay in the country, as they have work or residency permits, or similar.

“The total number of Venezuelan asylum seekers this year — this is asylum claims everywhere — is 117,000 … and this figure surpasses the total number of claims made last year,” Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

The development comes amid reports of widespread food and medicine shortages, skyrocketing inflation, political unrest and violence in Venezuela.

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UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno
Venezuelans wait outside the Federal Police office in the Brazilian border city of Pacaraima. In August 2018, Brazilian Federal courts temporarily halted, then resumed, admission of Venezuelans seeking asylum or special permits to stay in the country.

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