Venezuela turns Brazil into new refugee capital

. Jun 20, 2020
Venezuela collapse has forced many citizens to seek refuge in other countries. Photo: Guenter Manaus/Shutterstock Venezuela's collapse has forced many citizens to seek refuge in other countries. Photo: Guenter Manaus/Shutterstock

Over the past decade, nearly 100 million persons were forcefully displaced from their homes, as a result of persecution, famine, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events disturbing public order across the world. And while Brazil is perceived as a peaceful territory, it is now at the center of mass migration, as the crisis in Venezuela escalates, according to the newest report on forced displacement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

From 2010 to 2019, the Americas saw a fourfold increase in the number of people displaced across borders, primarily due to the exodus from Venezuela. With 4.5 million displaced Venezuelans — 3.6 million of them outside the country —, the country now has the second-largest number of displaced people in the world, only behind Syria.

</p> <p>Venezuelans’ search for refuge in neighboring countries turned the Americas into the largest recipient of asylum applications worldwide in 2019 and Brazil into the sixth-largest destination for asylum seekers, with 82,500 new claims registered in 2019.</p> <p>Brazil is not alone, 85 percent of refugees are hosted in developing countries, but the country’s response to the refugee crisis has been praised by Federico Martinez, a UNHCR representative in Brazil. In a webinar hosted by the commission this week, he congratulated Brazil for becoming “a reference to shelter refugees, especially for people fleeing Venezuela,” due to the application of the extended refugee definition under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees.</p> <p>In Mr. Martinez’s view, the fact that refugees have access to Brazil’s healthcare system and even to emergency aid during the <a href="">pandemic</a> helps protect these vulnerable populations, especially because the <a href="">coronavirus has hit vulnerable populations</a> particularly hard.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img src="" alt="migrant from Venezuela hitchhiking in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais." class="wp-image-42938" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Migrant from Venezuela hitchhiking in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Photo: Elena Fragoso/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>“We have been congratulating Brazil because it has become a reference in terms of good practices in hosting refugees, especially Venezuelans. I highlight the wide adoption of the Cartagena Convention on refugees, which helps to recognize the need for protection of these populations,” he said.</p> <p>Since 2018, the Brazilian government has established Operation Welcome in Roraima, Brazil&#8217;s northernmost state —&nbsp;which borders Venezuelan. According to the Brazilian Army, which manages the task force for humanitarian aid, almost 890,000 assistance procedures were provided, including 388,000 vaccinations, 251,000 CPF requests — the Brazilian equivalent to a social security number — and 89,000 work permits.</p> <h2>Clearing the backlog&nbsp;</h2> <p>By the end of 2019, 32,860 asylum seekers had already been given refuge in Brazil, while 207,000 requests were still pending. Earlier this year, there was an attempt to clear the backlog, Brazil’s National Council of Refugees (Conare) <a href="">granted refugee status</a> to 17,000 Venezuelans at once, bringing the national total to 43,000 refugees — 38,000 of them from Venezuela.</p> <p>Bernardo Laferté, a Conare coordinator, said in the same webinar that Brazil is working to diminish waiting times. In 2019, the government body launched SisConare, a digital platform for refugee solicitations that, according to Mr. Laferté, received 50,000 requests, roughly 25 percent of the total demand. “The goal is to migrate them all from paper to the digital platform within a year,” he said.</p> <p>Venezuelans are responsible for more than half of Conair’s demand, he said, outnumbering Syrians. The organization has also provided <a href="">humanitarian aid</a> to Haitians, Senegalese, Cubans, and Dominicans — who account for the majority of aid requests in Brazil.</p> <h2>Cultural adaptations</h2> <p>Despite the recent influx of refugees and migrants, Brazil remains an insular country. According to the latest <a href="">immigration report</a> by the Justice Ministry, Brazil received 774,200 immigrants from 2011 to 2018, but only 492,700 stayed long-term. Popular perception, however, is quite distant from reality. A 2018 research by Ipsos institute found that Brazilians believed immigrants accounted for as much as 30 percent of the population — the actual share at the time was 0.4 percent.&nbsp;</p> <p>As more immigrants arrive, needing social services and looking for jobs, the misperception, can become dangerous for those seeking asylum. Roraima, the same state where most Venezuelans have found refuge, is also registering many cases of <a href="">harassment</a> and even the <a href="">murder of Venezuelans</a> caused by xenophobia.</p> <p>But civil society institutions such as São Paulo’s Immigration Museum, are finding ways to diminish the cultural shock and avoid xenophobia. The museum, headquartered in the old “hostel of Brás” — a temporary shelter that received thousands of immigrants in the 19th Century migration wave — has created many initiatives, including art installations, to foster empathy towards refugees in the local population.&nbsp;</p> <p>In one of the most recent artworks, the <em>SobreNomes</em> (LastNames) project received 1,600 audio files sent by the public, with the correct spelling of their family names. These were turned into a <a href="">video installation</a>, complementing the famous wall that exhibits 12,000 family names in the museums’ headquarters.</p> <p>“We, at the museum, are very interested in trying to create empathy towards people coming to Brazil today. The idea is that anyone can migrate, anytime, anywhere, because it’s a human right. Looking at Brazil today, you might feel it is stable, but everything can change. So it (the exhibition) is a way to do that through something emotional, which is our own family history,” Isabela Maia, a manager at the museum&#8217;s educational center, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.

Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Most recently, she worked as an Editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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