Brazil honours refugee integration initiatives

News Stories, 6 December 2007

© UNHCR/L.F.Godinho
CONARE President Luiz Paulo Teles Barreto (left) presents an award to Brazilian MP Carlito Merss for promoting legislation aimed at protecting and assisting refugees.

BRASILIA, Brazil, December 6 (UNHCR) The Brazilian government has recognized 25 organizations and individuals, including a senior official of the UN refugee agency, for their valuable work in smoothing the integration of refugees.

The Brazilian Justice Ministry's National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), in a public ceremony here on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the country's refugee law, paid tribute to those working in fields such as health, employment, education and nutrition. Those honoured each received a trophy and a certificate of recognition.

"It's not enough to simply accept refugees in our country," said Luiz Paulo Teles Barreto, president of CONARE. "This ceremony shows that with commitment and responsibility everybody can help ensure the success of integration."

Two publications related to refugee issues were also launched at the ceremony: a report on Brazil's national refugee law and the work of CONARE, and a UNHCR study on the implementation of the 2004 Mexico Plan of Action. The latter, endorsed by 20 Latin American countries, aims to provide protection and find durable solutions for refugees in the region.

Luis Varese, UNHCR's representative in Brazil, was among those honoured by CONARE, which was set up after the promulgation of the refugee law in 1997. He paid tribute to the national refugee committee.

"The effective functioning of CONARE guarantees in Brazil the application of UNHCR's cornerstone work, which is international protection," added Varese, who was himself honoured for his work in this country.

Others recognized on Tuesday for their work in helping refugees integrate included a fruit and vegetable distributor which employed refugees in the northern city of Natal; a Rio de Janeiro hospital that offered special treatment to refugees; and two public universities for granting scholarships to refugees.

Three social services organizations in the trade and industry sectors were also awarded certificates for offering free training and technical courses to refugees living in São Paulo.

Two members of parliament, Carlito Merss and Eduardo Suplicy, and a senior local government official in São Paulo, Aluysio Nunes Ferreira, were honoured for their work in promoting legislation aimed at protecting and assisting refugees.

UNHCR played a vital role in helping the Brazilian government draft its refugee law, which formed the basis of a protection policy for refugees. Today, there are some 3,500 recognized refugees from 69 different countries living in Brazil.

The huge, vibrant South American nation has also resettled almost 400 refugees under a 1999 agreement with UNHCR. The figure includes more than 100 Palestinians who have arrived in Brazil earlier this year from a desert camp in Jordan.

By Valéria Graziano in Brasilia, Brazil

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UNHCR country pages

Assessing Refugee Needs in Brazil

UNHCR staff have been visiting and talking to urban refugees around Brazil to assess their protection needs of refugees and other people of concern. The refugee agency, working with local partners, carries out a three-week Participatory Assessment every year. UNHCR uses an age, gender and diversity approach during the exercise. This means also talking to minority and vulnerable groups, including women, older people, those living with disability and more. The findings allow UNHCR to develop an appropriate protection response. This year's exercise was conducted in five cities - São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Rio Grande de Sul and Manaus. Refugees taking part said the assessment allowed them to share views, problems and solutions with UNHCR and others. Various stakeholders, including government officials, aid workers and academics, also participated.

Assessing Refugee Needs in Brazil

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

Irina was born in 1998 in Switzerland, daughter of a Brazilian mother and her Swiss boyfriend. Soon afterwards, her mother Denise went to the Brazilian Consulate in Geneva to get a passport for Irina. She was shocked when consular officials told her that under a 1994 amendment to the constitution, children born overseas to Brazilians could not automatically gain citizenship. To make matters worse,the new-born child could not get the nationality of her father at birth either. Irina was issued with temporary travel documents and her mother was told she would need to sort out the problem in Brazil.

In the end, it took Denise two years to get her daughter a Brazilian birth certificate, and even then it was not regarded as proof of nationality by the authorities. Denise turned for help to a group called Brasileirinhos Apátridas (Stateless Young Brazilians), which was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to guarantee nationality for children born overseas with at least one Brazilian parent.

In 2007, Brazil's National Congress approved a constitutional amendment that dropped the requirement of residence in Brazil for receiving citizenship. In addition to benefitting Irina, the law helped an estimated 200,000 children, who would have otherwise been left stateless and without many of thebasic rights that citizens enjoy. Today, children born abroad to Brazilian parents receive Brazilian nationality provided that they are registered with the Brazilian authorities, or they take up residence in Brazil and opt for Brazilian nationality.

"As a mother it was impossible to accept that my daughter wasn't considered Brazilian like me and her older brother, who was also born in Switzerland before the 1994 constitutional change," said Denise. "For me, the fact that my daughter would depend on a tourist visa to live in Brazil was an aberration."

Irina shares her mother's discomfort. "It's quite annoying when you feel you belong to a country and your parents only speak to you in that country's language, but you can't be recognized as a citizen of that country. It feels like they are stealing your childhood," the 12-year-old said.

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003