About 180 Colombians, including more than 20 small children, have been camped on the mezzanine floor of the São Paulo International Airport, in Guarulhos, since Monday, waiting for a repatriation flight. In Brasileia, in Acre, Peruvians and Venezuelans got tired of waiting for liberation on the border with Bolivia and went to neighboring Assis Brasil to illegally cross the Acre River towards Iñapari, in Peru. Similar situations are repeated in Foz do Iguaçu (PR) and Pacaraima (RR).
The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil are driving thousands of citizens from neighboring countries, mainly Venezuelans, who came in search of a better life, to try to return to their places of origin. Canceled flights, sanitary barriers, closed borders and the lack of money have hindered the return.
This is the case of Venezuelan surveyor Rui, 52 years old. He left Venezuela two years ago fleeing the serious crisis of the Maduro government and worked as a driver in Araucária (PR). Fired at the beginning of the pandemic, he and his wife, 6 months pregnant, decided to return to Venezuela. “There is no food there, but I don’t pay water and electricity bills, I have my home and my family that will welcome us.”
The money, however, was enough for the couple to arrive in Porto Velho, where they were welcomed by the Catholic Church and are waiting for financial help to complete the journey. “My relatives are terrified by the news about the coronavirus in Brazil. My biggest fear is that my wife and my unborn child will be contaminated.” When they arrive in Pacaraima, on the border with Venezuela, Rui and his wife will face new difficulties. “Trapped is the only word that describes the situation of these people,” said Father Jesus de Bombadilla, representative of Caritas in Pacaraima.
According to him, about 3 thousand Venezuelans remain in the city. Most lived on informal jobs that became scarce with the start of the pandemic and are now unable to return. Those who succeed are quarantined in a shed built across the border. Maria (fictitious name), one of those who crossed the border, told Estadão that in addition to the poor housing conditions, returnees are the target of verbal aggression and humiliation by Venezuelan military personnel. “As soon as I set foot in Venezuela, a soldier aimed the rifle at my head and called me a traitor.”
On Monday, about 50 Colombians arrived at Guarulhos Airport. With suitcases, children and blankets, they took care of one of the recesses in the departure loft of Terminal 2. On Tuesday, when the Estadão report was there, there were 70, and yesterday, 180, coming from various states. They hope that the Colombian government will send a plane to take them home. “The airport did what it could, we increased cleanliness and security, we adapted the stringers (seats with dividers) so they wouldn’t sleep on the floor, but we hope that the Colombian embassy or consulate will take action,” said commander Miguel Dau , director of the airport.
Among the Colombians camped in Guarulhos there are residents in Brazil who decided to return to escape the economic effects and the high incidence of the disease. In Colombia, where the government has taken harsh isolation measures, such as the curfew, 652 deaths had been reported as of Friday.
“It seems that your president does everything contrary to what the doctors tell you to do. In Colombia it is safer,” said Nataly Cruz Perez, 28, a kind of spokesman for the group. Among Colombians there are also tourists who came to Brazil for holidays and were caught by the pandemic, such as Viviana Gallego, 34, who came to visit her brother in São Paulo with her twin sons Samantha and Emanuel, 6, and had a passing lap scheduled for March 24th. “The flights were all canceled. A bus company offered to take us, but the consulate said that we could not enter the country,” said Viviana.
Many take turns on benches or sleeping mats. In the space reserved by the airport, it is impossible to maintain distance. Guarulhos city council suggested transferring them to a hostel, but they refused. Meanwhile, they survive on donations. The food is made about two kilometers away, on an improvised stove on a plot. To bathe, they rent bathrooms from a hotel next to the airport, which has a 50% discount (R $ 25 per person).
The report sought the Colombian Embassy in Brasilia and the consulate in São Paulo, but until Friday there was no answer about what the authorities of the neighboring country intend to do.
In Foz do Iguaçu, 29 Venezuelan families are in a Church shelter waiting for authorization to enter Argentina. On Thursday one of them was hospitalized with burns after an accident while trying to heat food on a stove whose fuel was gel alcohol.
In Assis Brasil (AC), a city of just 5,000 inhabitants on the triple border with Peru and Bolivia, about 110 foreigners of different nationalities (Peruvians, Haitians, Senegalese and Venezuelans) are waiting for authorization from the Peruvian authorities. Many of them want to go to Mexico. Up to two weeks ago, there were more than 300. Those receiving authorization are quarantined in a hostel across the border. This is what happened to the 40 Peruvians who left São Paulo by bus two weeks ago – they were held for three days on the border between Rondônia and Acre and then another two days on the border.
When they were finally allowed to cross, seven of them were already infected with the coronavirus. “I never imagined that one day I would be banned from entering my own country. Now that I have entered, I feel guilty for bringing a virus,” said Juliana (fictitious name), one of the passengers on the bus.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked to comment on the situation of citizens from neighboring countries who are unable to return to their places of origin but did not respond to questions sent by email.
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