People in Emergencies: The Refugees in Brazil
Despite having gained increased international attention in recent years, the migrant crisis is not a new phenomenon. According to historical records, the movement of refugees seeking asylum has been occurring since the 12th century. However, it was only after World War II that this situation expanded significantly and unexpectedly. This forced migration, which previously prevailed for reasons such as religious persecution, has expanded in recent centuries to also encompass economic, institutional, environmental, social, cultural, and political processes and casualties (Barreto, 2010).
According to the UNHCR’s (the UN Refugee Agency) ‘Refuge in Number’ report (4th edition) Brazil has accumulated more than eleven thousand refugees until 2018, most of them from Syria.
The regulation of refugees in Brazil has been taking place since 1997 by Law 9,474, which defines mechanisms for the UN 1951 Refugee Convention’s implementation. The Brazilian law, drafted in partnership with the UNHCR and civil society organizations (at that time represented by the Rio de Janeiro’s Cárita Arquidiocesana), is now considered by the United Nations itself as one of the most modern and comprehensive legislation regarding refugees (Barreto, 2010).
Regardless of the guarantee of a new life in the country that has welcomed them, men, women, children and the elderly are still suffering in their process of integrating into society. This is especially apparent when it comes to social and professional inclusion. For those who have escaped death, living with dignity is not a guarantee in their newfound homes.
As mentioned before, despite some records showing that the movement of refugees has occurred since the 12th century, it was only after World War II that it presented itself as a worldwide concern, demanding close attention from both governments and international organizations.
The understanding of Human Rights’ protection, developed through the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, proved to be a turning point, leading the United Nations to develop one of the most important conventions in international law that regulate the legal situation of refugees, the 1951 Refugee Convention (Barbosa, 2007).
It is noticeable that both World War I and II not only restructured the global map but also introduced a new perspective on the discussion surrounding human rights. Thus, the human rights issue was no longer an exclusive competence of international agencies, but also the competence of national governments (Milesi and Andrade, 2010).
In Brazil, it was actually through the new Constitution that, in 1988, that the country demonstrated its participation in the humanitarian sector. As a result, the present Constitution appears to be a milestone regarding social and humanitarian issues, opening the way for a different type of protection and a new dimension of fundamental rights and warranties.
With a clear desire to continue this movement, the Brazilian legislative chamber approved Law 9,474 in 1997, the first specific legislation in the country to regulate asylum applications and their procedure. However, despite being defined by the United Nations as one of the greatest pieces of legislation in the world relating to refugees, there is still a superficiality when it comes to the topics associated with education and housing. According to Moura (2016), it can be seen as a non-commitment by the Government to guarantee these rights, which ends up creating a barrier to the development and social inclusion of refugees in Brazil.
In that regard, the latest report conducted by the World Bank in collaboration with the UNHCR highlighted the challenges faced by Venezuelan immigrants, currently the major refugee group in Brazil (60,2%). In general, the study indicates that Venezuelan adults are 64% less likely to work in the formal sector and that children are 53% less likely to attend school (World Bank; UNHCR, 2021).
With regard to children, only 37,700 (or 45%) of Venezuelan children were enrolled in schools – compared to more than 85% of Brazilian children and youths. It seems that even when they do manage to enrol, Venezuelan children and adolescents often attend crowded schools and are placed at lower levels. The lack of Spanish-speaking teachers is another major obstacle to their success in the classroom (World Bank; UNHCR, 2021).
Unfortunately, it seems to be clear that although there is a large apparatus regarding the rights of immigrants and refugees in Brazilian legislation, the social and human rights policies are still unable to promote the inclusion of individual refugees, making many of them face obstacles while trying to access social services, the formal job market and the educational system. Additionally, these barriers can be related to language, difficulties in validating school documents and confirming professional skills.
In conclusion, we can identify that even after the great effort in trying to welcome this specific group, it is still visible that the country has only accepted these refugees into Brazilian borders but not integrated and included them in Brazilian society (Moura, 2016). Furthermore, despite the immense progress in the Brazilian legal system, there is still a gap between the law in theory and its implementation, especially concerning social and economic rights.
In other words, it is clear that even though Brazil has been working to protect refugees for years, the attempt to integrate them and incorporate them into Brazilian society remains a failure.
BARBOSA, Luciano Pestana; HORA, José Roberto Sagrado da. (2007). A polícia federal e a proteção internacional dos refugiados. Brasília: ACNUR.
BARRETO, Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira (org.) (2010). Refúgio no Brasil: a proteção brasileira aos refugiados e seu impacto nas Américas. Brasil: Ministério da Justiça/Alto
MILESI, Irmã Rosita; ANDRADE, William Cesar de. (2010). Atores e Ações por uma Lei de Refugiados no Brasil. Refúgio no Brasil. In: A proteção brasileira aos refugiados e seu impacto nas Américas.
MOURA, Camila Santos Barros. Crise humanitária de refugiados: obstáculos e desafios existentes no Brasil. Anais do III Seminário de RI, Caruaru, 2016.
World Bank; ACNUR. (2021). Relatório de Monitoramento de Proteção ACNUR Brasil. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Relatório%20de
%20Monitoramento%20de%20 Proteção%20-%20 ACNUR%20BRASIL%20%28 abril-maio%20 de%202021%29.pdf.