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Things Are So Bad In Venezuela That People Are Walking To Brazil For Medicine

In the Brazilian border state of Roraima, the health system can't meet the demands of Venezuelans fleeing a collapsing country.

Posted on April 25, 2017, at 3:20 p.m. ET

The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, marked by over a year of shortages, is so bad that people are walking over the border into Brazil to get the food and medicines they need.

Juan Barreto / AFP / Getty Images

A new Human Rights Watch report based on interviews conducted with 60 Venezuelans in February shows how the country's worsening humanitarian crisis has spilled over the Brazilian border.

The interviewees said they left Venezuela because they lacked the means to buy food and medicine there, and because of the country's growing crime rate.

Venezuelan Geraldine Dhil, 32, walked 125 miles to the Brazilian city of Boa Vista, hoping to find a job there so she can buy medicine for her 13-year-old daughter, who has cancer.

Barbara Rosales, 21, was six months pregnant when she went to a Venezuelan hospital in Santa Elena de Uairén.

César Muñoz Acebe/HRW

The hospital didn't have the medicine needed to treat her complications, so it had Rosales driven over the border with a nurse.

She gave birth in the Brazilian state of Roraima, where her baby, born weighing just 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), had to spend a month in intensive care.

According to one Brazilian official, the Roraima state health system is collapsing under the weight of serving Venezuelans in need of care.

César Muñoz Acebe/HRW

At the hospital in Pacaraima, a tiny border town of 12,000 people, 80% of the patients are from Venezuela.

The state's main Geral de Roraima Hospital treated 1,815 Venezuelans in 2016, more than three times the year before. The hospital sees an average of 300 Venezuelans each month. Health professionals report that Venezuelan patients arrive in much worse condition than Roraima locals, since they haven't received adequate care and medicine in their home country. Some have complications from untreated HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and pneumonia.

In Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, many Venezuelans live on the streets or in an improvised shelter the authorities set up in a former warehouse. But interviewees said they'd rather take their chances in Brazil than return home.

César Muñoz Acebe/HRW

Brazil's immigration system has been overwhelmed by an explosion in Venezuelan asylum requests, which shot up from just 54 in 2013 to 2,595 over the first 11 months of 2016.

In Roraima, 4,000 Venezuelans have been waiting months to officially apply for asylum, a step that would give them legal status to stay and work in Brazil while their cases are processed. The Federal Police have provided those on the waitlist with "appointment slips" for dates as far off as 2018, but Human Rights Watch says these documents don't give asylum-seekers permission to work, and it's not clear if they protect them from deportation.

Even for those who've managed to officially file for asylum, rulings are slow. By the end of 2016, Brazil's Ministry of Justice had decided just 89 of the 4,670 Venezuelan asylum applications it received since 2012. It granted asylum in 34.

"We are seeing thousands of Venezuelans fleeing a humanitarian crisis that the Maduro government won't even recognize as a real crisis," César Muñoz, a researcher who worked on the Human Rights Watch report, said.

César Muñoz Acebe/HRW

Venezuelans can apply for two-year residency permits, which provide a more stable form of documentation than the Federal Police's asylum appointment slips, but Muñoz says many are deterred by the R$500 (around US$160) cost of the application.

In the US, Venezuela topped the list of countries for asylum requests in 2016, with 18,155 people seeking refuge, more than six times the number just two years before.

For more on the humanitarian situation for Venezuelans arriving in Brazil, you can watch this video.

View this video on YouTube

This post was translated from Portuguese.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.