Brazil says it will send additional troops to its northern frontier after residents of one of its border towns attacked Venezuelan immigrants, forcing hundreds of them to flee back into their country.
Brazil’s Ministry of Public Security said on Saturday it would send an additional 60 soldiers to Roraima on Monday, reinforcing a contingent already operating in the northern state.
The deployment was announced hours after dozens of Brazilians in the town of Pacaraima attacked makeshift immigrant camps on Saturday after a local merchant was stabbed, badly beaten and robbed in an assault blamed on Venezuelan immigrants.
An initially peaceful demonstration turned violent when locals threw rocks at the migrants and set fire to their belongings.
Police said hundreds of immigrants crossed back into Venezuela to escape the violence.
“It was terrible, they burned the tents and everything that was inside,” Venezuelan Carol Marcano, told AFP news agency.
“There were shots, they burned rubber tyres.”
Marcano added that some Venezuelans reacted to the attack by destroying a car with a Brazilian license plate.
A military police spokesperson said three Brazilians were hurt in the violence. There was no information immediately available on injuries among the Venezuelans involved.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have crossed into Brazil in the past three years, fleeing an economic, social and political crisis that has ravaged their home country.
An estimated 1,000 of them are thought to be living on the streets of Pacaraima.
The violence came amid rising tensions in parts of Latin America over migration triggered by the crisis in Venezuela.
According to the United Nations, 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country – mostly for Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.
UN officials have reported that 1.3 million of those who fled were suffering from malnourishment, with food shortages a major issue affecting Venezuela.
On Saturday, Ecuador put in place new regulations that ban Venezuelans without a valid passport from entering the country. Many Venezuelan migrants travel only with national ID cards, which was previously sufficient to enter Ecuador.
A similar rule will take effect in Peru on August 25.
Venezuela’s currency has fallen 99.99 percent against the US dollar on the black market since President Nicolas Maduro came to power in April 2013.
Maduro blames the crisis on an economic war led by opposition leaders with the help of the US, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against his administration.
On Monday, Venezuela is set to issue new banknotes after removing five zeroes from its currency, the bolivar, in a move experts have said could increase hyperinflation.