Brazil to deploy more troops on Venezuela border amid refugee crisis

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Defense Minister Raul Jungmann speaks during a news conference for foreign journalists in Brasilia, Brazil, May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BOA VISTA, Brazil (Reuters) - The Brazilian government will deploy more troops on its border with Venezuela and start relocating tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees who have fled into northern Brazil, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said on Thursday.

Jungmann said a census will be conducted to establish how many Venezuelans have crossed the open border to seek food, work and shelter in Boa Vista, where the mayor says 40,000 refugees have strained the city’s health and other public services.

“This is a humanitarian drama. The Venezuelan are being expelled from their country by hunger and the lack of jobs and medicine,” Jungmann told reporters after seeing local officials. “We are here to bring federal government help and strengthen the border.”

The Brazilian army will double its contingent of soldiers at the border to 200 soldiers, the minister said.

His visit to Roraima state came as Colombia tightened border controls with Venezuela and said it will give aid to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing economic crisis.

The Brazilian government has said it will not close the border and plans to relocate refugees to other cities in the interior of Brazil where they can find work and settle down.

Jungmann visited a square in Boa Vista where some 300 Venezuelans have been sleeping in the open.

Three shelters run with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees quickly filled up last year, while Venezuelans continue to arrive and have nowhere to sleep or find work in a saturated labor market.

“The situation has worsened. More and more are arriving and there is nowhere to house them to get them off the streets,” a spokesman for the Roraima state government said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Tom Brown