Opened late last year with a capacity for housing about 250 people, a former warehouse turned shelter in Pacaraima, a hardscrabble dusty border town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, now has upward of 500 Venezuelan Warao indigenous, and more are arriving daily.
Women cook over a dozen little open fires, while men lie on hammocks inside an adjoining building and naked children with distended bellies and dirty faces run around the shelter for the Warao who have fled Venezuela’s troubles.
“The life of Warao is all about Warao,” said Teolinda Moralera, who came to the shelter two weeks ago with her husband and three children.
Authorities in Pacaraima say the Warao began crossing into the region in 2016, a full year before tens of thousands of non-indigenous Venezuelans began arriving.
Health workers scramble to identify children with measles — one in the shelter died this month — and address severe malnutrition and myriad other medical issues.
“All Venezuelans arriving here are in a precarious situation,” said Luis Fernando Peres, one of the lead volunteers with Fraternity International Humanitarian Federation, one of the groups working at the shelter. “The Warao are arriving in even worse shape.”
As Brazilian authorities scramble to accommodate tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelans crossing the country’s northern border to escape their homeland’s economic collapse and political unrest, the indigenous Warao are emerging as their biggest challenge.
Despite the difficulties and an uncertain future, many Warao say they are happy to be in Brazil, even going so far as to call the shelter a “paradise” compared to what they left behind.
Text from the AP news story, Brazil struggles to care for Venezuela's indigenous Warao, by Peter Prengaman.
Photos by Eraldo Peres