WOODINVILLE, Washington — In 2020, 59,147 refugees sought sanctuary in Brazil. This statistic is an 80.08% increase from the number of individuals who arrived in 2019. Venezuelans make up 18% of Brazil’s refugee population and form the largest refugee group in the country. Although Brazil does not take in large amounts of refugees when compared to countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, its refugee population has been rapidly growing over the years. For example, the country hosted around 10,260 refugees in 2017. Brazil also has one of the largest refugee populations in Latin America. Such massive growth and responsibility forced Brazil’s government to take immediate and effective action that allows refugees to resettle in the country. Today, it is evident that Brazil’s successful refugee policies have had a positive impact on thousands of families over the years.
The Brazilian Refugee Act
One of the most significant refugee policies that Brazil created is the 1997 Brazilian Refugee Act — the first such law in all of Latin America. In it, a clear definition of a refugee is outlined. According to the law, an individual who is fleeing their country due to threats to their safety fulfills the definition of a refugee and must receive immediate protection. The latter part of the definition ensures that refugees receive a chance to obtain official refugee status without delay. In this way, refugees are quickly able to benefit from the resources and opportunities that come from the documentation.
The National Committee for Refugees (CONARE)
A year after the creation of the Refugee Act, Brazil’s government also formed a group called the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE). With the help of various government branches, Brazilian nonprofit organizations and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the committee is able to provide documentation to incoming refugee families. CONARE oversees the eligibility and application process in Brazil and actively looks for ways that the country can serve the best interests of refugees entering the country. For example, CONARE recognized the breaches of human rights occurring in Venezuela and was determined to offer protection to Venezuelan individuals seeking refuge in Brazil. On December 5, 2019, CONARE accepted more than 21,000 refugees. In one day, the committee was able to ensure the safety of thousands of Venezuelans.
Brazil’s successful refugee policies reached a high in 2019 when the government chose to do away with the requirement of an interview to issue refugee status. The interview and ensuing decision elongate the refugee process in many countries. An interview can take up to a year to fully process and this causes large numbers of undocumented refugees to illegally enter a country or continue to face danger in their home countries. Brazil does not necessitate an interview if the individual does not have a criminal record.
With their documentation easily accessible, registered refugees are able to enjoy full rights, including permanent residence, employment opportunities, healthcare and a multitude of educational opportunities. After receiving documentation in 2020, 50,000 Venezuelans were also able to access the national emergency grant to help them overcome COVID-19 pandemic-related financial struggles.
In 2020, Brazil established a new program called Operation Welcome. Focused specifically on Venezuelan refugees, the program is helping thousands of families begin a new, safe life in Brazil. In 2021, the UNHCR and International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted Operation Welcome in helping around 50,000 Venezuelan refugees relocate from the more rural state of Roraima to Brazilian cities. The populous areas of Brazil offer more opportunities to refugees and have a wealth of resources to help individuals find success. In the same year, Operation Welcome also gave out their 10,000th airplane ticket to Venezuelans hoping to relocate to Brazil.
Operation Welcome largely focuses on Venezuelan families. Almost 88% of the program’s beneficiaries are families who are seeking protection in Brazil. Understanding the importance of education, Operation Welcome also provides a “Passport for Education” to Venezuelan families with young children. With these, families receive information on how to enroll their children in school and are able to access services that help children and families become more accustomed to the language and culture of Brazil.
Through Brazil’s successful refugee policies and comprehensive programs, the country has become a frontrunner in Latin America when it comes to refugee documentation and resettlement. In fact, Brazil’s strategy is regarded as a model for all countries accepting refugees. Although Brazil financially struggles to offer services of the best quality, the country is determined to make the best of what it has to help Venezuelan refugees.
– Mariam Kazmi