RIO DE JANEIRO – Some 500 undocumented Haitian immigrants crossed into Brazil from Bolivia in the last three days of 2011, joining some 700 of their compatriots who live in an improvised shelter in the Amazonian town of Brasileia, a source in the Acre state government told Efe Monday.
The mass immigration occurred in just a few days because of rumors that Brazil considered blocking Haitians from entering anywhere along its Amazonian border beginning this year, the source said.
Over the last two years Brazil has welcomed hundreds of Haitians who entered the country illegally looking for better living conditions following the 2010 earthquake, and who were given humanitarian visas since they could be considered neither asylum seekers nor political refugees.
“The Haitians had apparently been gathering on the other side of the border and crossed into the country as a group, afraid they would be stopped from entering Brazil,” the source said.
The Acre state government said that it sent food and water to help the immigrants who were camping in Brasileia’s public squares, since that diminutive city was not capable of providing them with aid.
“The situation is complicated because the state had already built a shelter for immigrants that was apparently too small for the 700 Haitians who were already in Brasileia,” the source said.
Acre’s deputy secretary of justice and human rights, Jose Henrique Corinto de Moura, traveled to Brasileia Monday to coordinate aid for the immigrants.
Though Brazil’s Justice Ministry acknowledged last month that it is studying measures to halt the trafficking of immigrants across the country’s Amazonian borders, up to now it has not announced a specific plan of action.
According to the Jesuit Refugee Service, human-trafficking rings recruit Haitian citizens with promises of work in countries like Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia – but once abandoned and left to their own devices, the migrants end up traveling to Brazil.
In 2010 alone, Brazil awarded 475 humanitarian visas to Haitian immigrants, but the number of the undocumented rose significantly in 2011.
The Acre government estimates that at least 2,300 Haitians entered the state last year.
Besides a humanitarian visa, immigrants obtain documents that allow them to work in Brazil, and some are sent to the largest cities in the Amazon region, Porto Velho and Manaus, where jobs are more plentiful. EFE