Brazil preparing for possible mass influx of Venezuelan refugees

Slideshow ( 4 images )

(This May 17 story has been refiled to correct paragraph 7 number of refugees and attribution of data to Brazilian authorities instead of UNHCR.)

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil is concerned about growing numbers of refugees spilling over its border from Venezuela and is creating a plan to deal with a possible mass influx if the crisis in Venezuela worsens, Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said on Wednesday.

“Evidently we are worried and our biggest concern is the humanitarian situation,” Jungmann told reporters. “We need to have a contingency plan in place to handle this if things get worse.”

More than 6,000 Venezuelans cross the border every day looking to buy food and medicine, and most go back but others stay and look for work, the minister said.

Last month, Brazilians were shocked by the sight of indigenous women and children from Venezuela begging in the streets of Manaus, the biggest city in Brazil’s Amazon region.

The government of the border state of Roraima has said that 30,000 refugees have arrived since Venezuela’s political and economic crisis became acute last year. Federal police have put the number of refugees in Roraima’s capital Boa Vista at over 15,000 people.

Roraima state Senator Telmario Mota told Reuters that Venezuelans seeking employment were being exploited in Boa Vista and young Venezuelan women had been forced into prostitution.

The number of refugees in Boa Vista who requested to stay in Brazil rose to 3,000 in the first three months of this year from 2,230 last year, with some 5,000 waiting to be attended, according to Brazilian authorities. A United Nations High Commission for Refugees mission visited Boa Vista this week to assess the situation.

“We are here to familiarize ourselves with the situation, see the local response capability and help prepare to receive an influx of people if that were needed,” a UNHCR spokesman said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle