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COVID-19 Threatens Tens of Thousands of Venezuelan Refugees in Brazil

A boy brushes his teeth from a communal faucet in the Jardim Julieta squatter camp in Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 23, 2020.
A boy brushes his teeth from a communal faucet in the Jardim Julieta squatter camp in Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 23, 2020.

The U.N. refugee agency is increasing efforts to protect tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Brazil and the communities hosting them from the COVID-19 pandemic, which already has claimed nearly 83,000 lives in the country.

Brazil is the second worst affected country in the world and the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America. Venezuelans comprise most of the 345,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

They have found a safe haven in Brazil from the economic hardship and political oppression in their country but now find themselves at high risk of becoming infected and even dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The U.N. refugee agency says the pandemic is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Those include the poorest, indigenous populations and other native communities, as well as refugees. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says his agency has been helping local and national authorities prevent the spread of the disease since its onset.

“We have been scaling-up our support to help mitigate the threat of the virus among refugees, migrants and the local communities hosting them by providing infrastructure to strengthen the national health system, cash assistance, hygiene items and life-saving information such as informative sessions on preventive measures.,” Baloch said.

Baloch says the number of refugees who have contracted the virus is unknown because of the absence of data. He says the UNHCR is aware of at least 19 COVID-19 related deaths among refugees, of whom nine were indigenous Venezuelan refugees.

“UNHCR is also addressing rising humanitarian and health needs among refugees living on the streets, and in the overcrowded shelters and unsanitary conditions in the northern regions of Brazil, including in the Amazonas, Roraima and the Para states,” Baloch said.

Amazonas state is one of the most affected regions in Brazil. It has more than 92,000 confirmed cases, including more than 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths.

Baloch says the UNHCR is expanding its information and preventive campaign in the region in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, He says information sessions are being given in indigenous languages to make sure life-saving messages reach local residents.

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