Brazilian border town tires of Venezuelan refugees

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In this file photo taken on February 24, 2018 Venezuelan Warao indigenous woman Yulen Moraleda, 33, gives milk to one of her new-born twins at the Pintolandia shelter in the city of Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil, on February 24, 2018. (AFP)
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Venezuelans wait in a queue in front of the Brazil Federal Police Office in the Venezuela-Brazil border, at Pacaraima, Roraima, Brazil, on February 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 March 2018
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Brazilian border town tires of Venezuelan refugees

PACARAIMA: The remote Brazilian town of Pacaraima is used to outsiders — tourists curious about spectacular nearby mountains — but a sea of Venezuelan refugees is pushing locals’ hospitality to breaking point.
Before, Pacaraima’s main attraction was its location near Monte Roraima in Venezuela, believed to have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” fantasy adventure.
But now the town has become a focal point for the exodus from economic collapse and political violence just across the border.
Every day, between 500 and 1,200 impoverished Venezuelans come over the frontier into Pacaraima, swamping the sleepy community.
The arrivals — designated refugees by the United Nations — sleep in the streets, cram into inadequate shelters, and are blamed by some for problems like increased prostitution.
“It’s out of control,” said Catholic priest Father Jesus Lopez, who runs a soup kitchen for the Venezuelans in Pacaraima.

Swelling Pacaraima

Refugees are estimated to have swelled Pacaraima’s population of 12,000 by a third.
But despite the increased traffic, the local economy is suffering.
“There’s a lot of movement and little money. My sales have fallen because there are fewer tourists and they were the ones who brought in money,” said Zilma Rocha, who has a kitchen serving breakfasts.
About the only people seeing an uptick in trade are the currency dealers, who sell the Brazilian real to their neighbors.
Some supermarkets are also seeing new business, with Venezuelans crossing the border just to buy food they can’t afford or find back home.
“Everything is cheaper here. Over there, 80 reais ($25) won’t buy you anything, but with that amount here you can get rice, sugar, flour, butter, soap, biscuits, juice and hygiene products,” said Jonathan do Santos, who frequently makes the trip.
“The lack of food in Venezuela has created opportunities here and our businesses are taking advantage of that,” said Ruan Silva, whose supermarket in Pacaraima is one of the few accepting the nearly worthless Venezuelan currency, the bolivar.

Desperation

Lopez, the priest, said Brazil’s government has not done enough to help communities like this prepare for the influx. But he said he understood the desperation driving the fugitives.
“These people are running from hunger, from death,” he said.
Most Venezuelans arriving in Pacaraima try to move straight on to the nearest sizeable city in Brazil’s Roraima state, Boa Vista, where much of the refugee aid is centered.
But for some, that 134 mile (215 km) trip — and the $16 taxi ride — is a step too far.
“We had planned to go to Boa Vista but things sound terrible there,” said Jose Pena, 22, who had traveled more than 930 miles (1,500 km) with his family from Carabobo in Venezuela.
“We prefer to stay here,” he said, while tending a cooking fire. “At least here we can eat.”
Abilio Mendez, 46, who traveled all the way from Puerto La Cruz on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, simply couldn’t afford to go any further than Pacaraima.
“It’s everything left in my life,” he said, pointing to his two suitcases.
His solution for getting to Boa Vista? To set off under the punishing sun and try to walk.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 46 min 29 sec ago
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.