In shelters, run down homes or on the streets, natives of the Warao ethnicity that migrated from Venezuela, routinely face a number of difficulties on Brazilian soil. They live with a lack of water, food, healthcare and medicine, besides being targets of violence and xenophobia.
Jesus Desidério Nuñez was one of the first Warao to arrive in Belém, the state capital of Pará, in 2017. He would sleep on the streets with his family near the Ver-o-peso Market.
Like the majority of the Warao who migrated to Pará, he is from the Amacuro Delta region of Venezuela, which is a long journey to Belém.
Faced with this situation, part of the population including both natives and non-natives have migrated to other countries, including Brazil, in order to survive.
Journey for survival
To get to the Pará state capital, the Warao traversed 36 kilometers over land and water.
Unable to speak Portuguese and tired after a long journey, Jesus, his wife and seven children were able to rent a room in a pension near the Ver-o-peso market.
In the area, known for a being prostitution hub, there are many pensions frequented by the homeless as well as drug users. “I lived in that place for 3 months. It was a difficult time”, Jesus remembers. At the time he would pay R$20 a day for each family member.
The front of the building bears the burn marks of a fire set by drug users in 2018, a community constantly at odds with indigenous peoples.
Currently, Jesus and his family live in a public shelter in the Tapaña neighborhood – the only one available to the Warao in Belém.
Different Warao, different state, same story
According to the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), around 4 thousand Warao have entered Brazilian soil since 2014. Though the Federal government makes R$20,000 available monthly for each group of 50 migrants, there is no integrated plan between the Union, state and municipal authorities and how to assure their rights are protected.
The location where Jesus Nuñez settled in 2017, in the Ver-o-peso area, is a kind of gateway for many Warao that arrive in Belém. Indigenous community member Celso Zapata, who is a new comer to Belém, followed Jesus’ footsteps alongside 6 other families, totaling 28 people.
The front of the building has an abandoned look which doesn’t change once inside. A long corridor gives access to seven bedrooms, with no windows, rotting doors and exposed electrical wiring. The wood paneling is broken, allowing for the equally precarious roof to be seen.
In a city like Belém, the absence of windows turns any space into a furnace. Things only get worse when entire families are present in rooms no bigger than 10 square meters.
The owner charges R$30 for each family member, or R$210 daily. This turns into R$6300 if they stay the entire month.
The day that the Brasil de Fato news team visited the location, Celso Zapata’s brother Evelio Mariano, was frying chicken for lunch in the room’s kitchen space, the only to possess windows.
The food was bought with the money the women raised on the streets. “I’m unemployed, so she went out to work, she is tired, and because of that I’m the one cooking lunch”, said Evelio while pointing to his wife, when asked if he always does the cooking.
While he fried the chicken, the Warao native kept repeating: “I just want a job, any job”.
A better life
Celso Zapata came to Belém in search of “a more dignified life for his relatives, especially the children”. The migration to Pará state occurred after he lost his job in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, where he worked as a handyman’s assistant. With the onset of the pandemic, he and other colleagues were let go.
“I then saw myself jobless and on the streets, with no other opportunities. I tried to get another job, knocked on doors, but didn’t find one. Neither I nor my brothers”, Zapata tells us. He migrated to Belém in a group of 20 adults and 8 Warao children.
Anthropologist Marlise Rosa, who has a doctorate in social anthropology from the National Museum School, has been following the Warao situation in Brazil since 2017.
She relates that the lack of a unified assistance program, articulated at the Federal, state and municipal levels makes it so that every time the Warao move to a different city, they need to start from scratch.
“The very process of moving is a delicate one. In most cases, they have the money for transportation but no money to eat. We see people arriving at new locations totally weakened. What happens is that when they get to these cities – though they are not the first Warao to arrive, like is the case in Belém – there is no team, no institution that provides a network of support.
Nowadays there are reports of the Warao population living in all five regions of Brazil. However, the majority is concentrated in the north in cities like Pacaraima and Boa Vista in the state of Roraima, Manaus in the state of Amazonas, and in 11 cities throughout the state of Pará.
“We need to comprehend, accept and prepare for the fact that the Warao presence in Brazil will continue, thus, we need to come up with effective answers which obviously need to take into account the viewpoint of the natives” argues the anthropologist.
In October of 2019, the Attorney General’s office and the Pará State Attorney’s signed a judicial agreement titled “Terms of Enshrined Rights”, that sought to implement measures that would provide shelter and humanitarian assistance to the Warao in Belém.
10 months after the signing of the agreement and three years since the first Warao arrived in the Pará state capital, Federal attorney Felipe de Moura Palha e Silva, affirms that there is a string of errors in the humanitarian aid provided to these people.
“The errors and initial aversion they face will repeat themselves everywhere they go. If you talk to authorities in the northeastern region you will hear of the same mistakes that happened here. Therefore, the aversion and institutional racism the Warao faced when they firt arrived three or four years ago, is happening again in the context of their voluntary moves from town to town”, he explains.
The Ministry of Citizenship said in a press release that the Warao are being offered shelter, food, personal hygiene kits, cleaning supplies, basic health services and access to other public policies like security and the provision of material for arts and crafts.
Responsible for the humanitarian assistance provided to the Warao in Pará, the John Paulo XXIII Foundation (Funpapa), informed us that they sent various project proposals regarding shelter to the State, all within the framework of the National Social Assistance Plan, however, the Ministry of Citizenship has enacted budget cuts”. “The first project sent to the MC was budgeted at R$6 million but ended up receiving only R$1.2 million”, the foundation alleges.
Regarding the matter the Ministry of Citizenship said that it “follows analysis protocols for any plans presented to the State. Among these, we consider, for example, that the number of migrants and refugees identified in the territory, as well as the actions set forth in our plan, adhere effectively to the guidelines set forth in the National Social Assistance Plan”.
Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas