U.S. backs program to settle Venezuelan migrants in Brazil

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a program on Tuesday to help tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants settle in Brazil for the long-term.

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USAID officials said the agency will provide $4 million to fund the program that will facilitate access to formal employment, business training and language courses to ease the economic and social integration of Venezuelan émigrés.

Of the 4.6 million Venezuelans who have fled the political and economic crisis in their country, almost 900,000 have crossed the border into Brazil since 2018. They are still entering Brazil at an average rate of 500 a day, the Brazilian government says.

Most have continued on to other countries, especially in Spanish-speaking Latin America. But 264,000 Venezuelans have applied to stay in Brazil, overwhelming social services in the Brazilian border state of Roraima.

The program backed by USAID and the IOM will complement Brazil’s Army-run domestic push to move Venezuelan immigrants to cities further south of Roraima, where there are more opportunities for sustainable work and a new life.

The program, called Economic Integration of Vulnerable Nationals from Venezuela in Brazil, was launched in Brasilia by John Barsa, USAID assistant administrator for Latin America. It is not a long-term solution, but provides needed help until stability returns to Venezuela, he said Tuesday.

“That will only happen when the illegitimate Maduro regime is no longer in power,” Barsa said, voicing the Trump administration’s policy of support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó rather than Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro.

USAID said it has already provided nearly $15 million to support Venezuelans in Brazil.

The Trump administration slashed the number of refugees from any country it will allow to resettle in the United States in 2020 to 18,000, the lowest level in the history of the modern refugee program.

Since April 2019, Brazil has moved 27,222 Venezuelan refugees and migrants to southern cities, said Army Colonel Georges Kanaan, who runs the border processing operation praised by the IOM.

On one of those flights was Jose Angel Perez and his family, from Anaco in eastern Venezuela, where he was a tanker truck driver for state oil company PDVSA. He is hoping the new program will find him stable work in Brazil.

“I need a job, so does my wife. We plan to stay. Change will not come quickly in Venezuela,” he said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker