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Overwhelmed by Haitian immigrants, Brazil may temporarily shut border crossing

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 17 Jan 2014 06:45 GMT
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In a 2011 file photo, a Haitian man cleans a car window in Manaus, Brazil. Since the January 12, 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, hundreds of Haitians have been migrating to Brazil via Peru and Ecuador. Most work in construction and in factories, earning little more than the minimum wage of $300 monthly, leaving them little or no money to send home to family in Haiti, according to the Association of Haitian Workers in Manaus. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
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RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A human rights official in Brazil’s Acre state has proposed temporarily closing a border crossing from Peru in order to devise a system to more efficiently handle the “caravans” of Haitian immigrants that have overwhelmed the region in the four years since a massive quake crippled the Caribbean nation.

Illegal immigrants from Haiti began pouring into Brazil in January 2010, after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake reduced much of the capital Port-au-Prince to rubble, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving 2.3 million homeless.

Since then, more than 15,000 Haitians have entered Brazil through Acre, in the Amazon region, and 10,000 have received residency and work permits. However, the number of daily arrivals this month has nearly tripled to 70 to 80, compared to 20 to 30 in the last months of 2013, said Acre’s Human Rights Secretary Nilson Mourão.

Mourão said Acre state governor Tião Viana will request the temporary closing of the crossing between the Peruvian town of Iñapari and the town of Assis Brasil, in Acre, until the Brazilian government can organise a more efficient system to receive and process the necessary documents for the immigrants.

“The situation has become untenable, there are caravans of immigrants coming through the border and we are not equipped to handle them,” Mourão said this week after visiting 1,200 Haitians waiting for visas in the small town of Brasiléia, whose shelter has the capacity for 300 people.

“I fear a tragedy may happen because of overcrowding at the shelter.”

People smugglers are taking advantage of the influx of Haitians, who pay the so-called “coyotes” to help them cross the Peruvian border into Brazil. The route through Peru is the most popular, as the dense forest makes it more difficult for border police to spot them. Once in Brazil, federal police transport them in buses to the shelter in Brasiléia.

Meanwhile in Haiti, an estimated 146,000 people made homeless by the 2010 quake are still living in tent camps, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

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