Providing legal and social assistance to vulnerable Warao migrants from Venezuela  

Bélem, Pará, Brazil - 15 November 2018 - The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants ( GLO.ACT), from 29 October to 2 November 2018,  continued to provide support to vulnerable migrants from Venezuela, this time with special focus on Warao indigenous migrants. GLO.ACT supported the   Federal Public Defender's Office (DPU) in delivering its mobile assistance  Itinerant DPU programme in Belém, Pará. The mission focused on providing quality legal assistance, disseminating information, and identifying cases of trafficking in persons (TIP) and smuggling of migrants (SOM).   The Itinerant DPU aims to reach those living in risky and remote areas that do not normally have access to legal assistance.

This mission represents the third time GLO.ACT provides assistance to Venezuelan migrants. Similar missions were carried out in October 2017 to assist vulnerable Venezuelan migrants arriving in the cities of  Boa Vista and Pacaraima in the State of Roraima , and in July 2018 in the city of Manaus, Amazonas.

On the first day of the mission in Belém do Pará, meetings aimed at assessing the local situation of migrants and their access to rights were held with the local anti-TIP network, including the State Committee Against Trafficking in Persons of Pará and the State Commission for the Eradication of Slave Labor, as well as different government authorities. On the second and third day of the mission, GLO.ACT supported the Federal Public Defender's Office to provide free legal assistance to Warao migrants at the state and municipal shelters, as well as visiting homes (targeting those that are renting accommodations) and major hotels that concentrate Venezuelan Warao migrants. Over 300 migrants were assisted. During the mission, attention was paid to helping migrants validate their legal status, access cash transference programmes, and health services, while migrant families, living in extreme conditions of vulnerability were identified and transferred to shelters.

The Itinerant DPU mission included six public defenders belonging to the Federal Public Defender's Office Assisting the Victims of Human Trafficking, Migration, Statelessness and Refugee, Eradicating Modern-Day Slavery, and Indigenous Thematic Working Groups. Apart from the DPU members, representatives from ILO, OIM, and NGOs such as the Brazilian Association for the Defense of Women, Childhood and Youth, a human rights journalist, and a Venezuelan migrant working for the City Hall of Bélem also participated.

The week concluded with a public hearing on 2 November 2018 to discuss the rights and responsibilities of Warao migrants in Belém. Over 350 people participated in the event. Grown-ups focused on discussions while a "Play Corner" was set up for the children during the event. 

The Warao are an indigenous Amerindian people inhabiting northeastern Venezuela's Orinoco Delta region, with smaller numbers in neighboring Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. The term Warao translates as "the boat people" and speak an agglutinative language, Warao. They have lived for centuries in the Orinoco Delta in northeastern Venezuela. Since the establishment of Oil companies in the region, the Orinoco Delta occupied by the Warao villages has begun to deteriorate. Warao leaders have drawn attention to the pollution caused by the oil industry and to the displacement of communities caused by the construction of the Caroni dam. Over the last several decades, fish supplies declined in their home territory as major rivers have been diverted and deepened for shipping. During the Venezuelan crisis, their already precarious situation was exacerbated. Furthermore, over the past few years, the crisis in Venezuela has led to an increasing number of its nationals, including members of displaced indigenous populations, crossing the Venezuela/Brazil border. For many the main destinations are Boa Vista in Roraima, Manaus in the Amazonas, and Belem, Pará. This population has been identified as being particularly vulnerable to the humanitarian crisis by local human rights institutions.

The first arrivals of Warao migrants arrived via Pacaraima, lived on the streets and begged, refusing to go to shelters with non-indigenous people. They have begun migrating from Roraima to Manaus, Amazonas, and then by boat to Bélem, Pára, passing through the city of Santarem. They have few work prospects. 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. Traditionally poor and marginalized in Venezuela, the Warao are facing health problems, combined with cultural and linguistic differences. Many Warao have little education and barley speak Spanish. All these factors make them especially vulnerable to exploitation.

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