Operation Welcome: Venezuelan refugees and immigrants in the Brazilian territory

Fernanda Rebelo Pinheiro

As a consequence of misguided public policies, Venezuela has experienced a rapid degradation of its economic structure, especially under the current president Nicolás Maduro. The lack of economic diversification, with the economy centered on oil sales and the low price of a barrel of oil on the international market, has submerged the country in the biggest political, economic, and social crisis that Venezuela has ever faced, generating high inflation and an increasingly high unemployment rate. Since 2017, this situation has driven the mass departure of Venezuelan citizens from their own country. According to UN estimates, more than 5 million people have been forced to leave the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in search of better living conditions, primarily in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.


The arrival of large numbers of Venezuelan migrants in Brazil occurs mainly through the land border in the state of Roraima, where the only highway that connects the two countries - located between the cities of Pacaraima (Brazilian part) and Santa Elena do Uairén (Venezuelan part) - constitutes the connection point on a border 2.199 kilometers long. This chaotic scenario of political, institutional, and socioeconomic crisis has caused Venezuelans to enter Brazil on a daily basis, setting up camps with improvised tents in streets and public squares in the cities of Pacaraima and the capital Boa Vista. This is causing the inefficiency of public services in the state of Roraima, with the consequent collapse of the public security, social support, and health systems, in a region where the population already suffered from the distance from large urban centers and the lack of state infrastructure, thus creating an emergency situation.


As of February 15th, 2018, through a Decree, the Federal Government began to strengthen the activities already in progress, creating the so-called Operation Welcome (Operação Acolhida) - a humanitarian aid strategy for Venezuelan refugees and immigrants, based on three fundamental pillars, namely: (1) Border Management, which consists of the organization of the migratory flow with reception, identification, documentation, classification, basic medical care, and immunization, (2) Sheltering, which consists of accommodation in shelters and hostels in the border zone, with food, education, health care, and social protection and (3) Interiorization, which is the voluntary transfer of immigrants to other Brazilian states, with social insertion in the country.


Operation Welcome was initially formed by the Federal Emergency Assistance Committee, with support from 11 federal government ministries, several UN agencies (e.g. UNHCR/ACNUR, IOM), and more than 100 national and international entities from society and the private sector. The Brazilian Army received the mission of planning, coordinating, and executing a series of actions such as transportation, logistics, health care, security, etc., to assist the massive influx of Venezuelans through the northern border of the country.

In Brazil, it is estimated that around 700.000 Venezuelans crossed the border from 2017 to 2022, and of this total, thousands of people still remain in the country waiting for the analysis of their requests for recognition of refugee status or ensuring their protection for humanitarian reasons.


Operation Welcome registered 82.822 Venezuelans interiorized in more than 800 Brazilian municipalities between the months of April 2018 to August 2022, with the state of Santa Catarina having the largest number of contingent (15.564), followed by Paraná (14.388) and Rio Grande do Sul (12.522), according to data from the Interiorization Panel of the Welcome System (Sistema Acolhedor).


It is concluded, then, that Operation Acolhida is an operation implemented in February 2018, which aims to protect Venezuelans crossing the border with Brazil, providing humanitarian aid to immigrants in vulnerable situations and refugees from the crisis that affects the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The operation's goal is to organize the border, with a controlled immigration flow, with all immigrants assisted in the various shelters, being able to participate in the voluntary process of interiorization, and being inserted into the labor market and the national education system.


Sources:

- https://www.acnur.org - Interiorização UNHCR/ACNUR Brasil

- http://aplicacoes.mds.gov.br - Painel Interiorização - Sistemas

- https://www.gov.br

- https://bdex.eb.mil.br - O Exército Brasileiro na Operação Acolhida

- Resolução nº 10, de 1º de novembro de 2019, do Comitê Federal de Assistência Emergencial