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Rio police fire tear gas in bid to clear tent city of pandemic ‘refugees’

The forced removal followed a court decision in favour of the land’s owner, state-run oil company Petrobras.

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A police officer walks past tents and shacks consumed by fires caused by stoves that were left unattended during an eviction at a settlement coined the “First of May Refugee Camp,” named for the date people moved on the land designated for a Petrobras refinery, in Itaguai, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, July 1, 2021, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

A police officer walks past tents and shacks consumed by fires caused by stoves that were left unattended during an eviction at a settlement coined the “First of May Refugee Camp,” named for the date people moved on the land designated for a Petrobras refinery, in Itaguai, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, July 1, 2021, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

A police officer walks past tents and shacks consumed by fires caused by stoves that were left unattended during an eviction at a settlement coined the “First of May Refugee Camp,” named for the date people moved on the land designated for a Petrobras refinery, in Itaguai, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, July 1, 2021, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Police have started evicting hundreds of homeless families from a recently established tent city near Rio de Janeiro, underscoring Brazil’s resurgent poverty during the pandemic.

TV images showed residents blocking the entrance to the campsite with bonfires as police launched tear gas canisters and fired water cannons at the tents.

With the southern hemisphere in the heart of its winter, the city was experiencing one of its coldest mornings on record.

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Security forces stand guard at the camp (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

Security forces stand guard at the camp (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

AP/PA Images

Security forces stand guard at the camp (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

The forced removal in Itaguai followed a court decision in favour of the land’s owner, state-run oil company Petrobras.

The residents had occupied the plot since May and baptised it the “First of May Refugee Camp”.

One unidentified woman from the informal settlement appeared on the Globo News television channel begging for help. “I’m a domestic worker,” she said through tears. “The woman fired me because of the pandemic. Help me, please, I have nowhere to go, I don’t have any family.”

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Shantytowns have emerged in several cities across Brazil, reflecting a surge of poverty after the government pared back one of the world’s most generous pandemic welfare programmes.

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Residents leave with their belongings (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

Residents leave with their belongings (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

AP/PA Images

Residents leave with their belongings (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

That left many exposed to soaring inflation as the nation’s weak job market has yet to show signs of recovery.

According to the national statistics agency, 14.8 million people were unemployed in the three months to April, or nearly 15% of the population. That tied the level recorded in the first quarter of 2021 that was the highest since the data series began in 2012.

Rio’s police department said the eviction was part of a legal process to recover the plot of land.

Petrobras said in a statement that, in compliance with the court order, the company had provided hand sanitiser and face masks and offered transport to three nearby bus stations.

By early afternoon, children could seen carrying their families’ few belongings out of the area as heavily armed police stood watch.


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