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Brazil to step up efforts to integrate refugees; reaffirms support for UNHCR

News Stories, 8 August 2011

© UNHCR/L.F.Godinho
High Commissioner António Guterres talks with refugees from several nations at a cultural centre in Brasilia.

BRASILIA, Brazil, August 8 (UNHCR) The Brazilian government has pledged to increase funding for civil society initiatives to integrate refugees and reaffirmed its support for UNHCR operations worldwide.

Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, after meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in Brasilia last week, said UNHCR had an "important agenda that deals with an enormous and growing problem." He added that Brazil "wants to participate in this effort of humanitarian assistance."

Senior Brazilian officials also told Guterres that the government will soon table a draft bill on statelessness and start the process of ratifying the 1990 UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which would benefit refugees and asylum-seekers.

Deputy Justice Minister Luiz Paulo Barreto handed Guterres a copy of the draft legislation, which will provide the mechanism for Brazil to implement the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Under the bill, registered stateless people will be issued with Brazilian ID cards and be eligible for a permanent visa after residing for four years in the country.

"This is great news," Guterres said after his meetings in Brasilia. He added that initiatives such as the draft statelessness bill and ratification of the migrants convention "will complete an important legal framework for the protection of foreigners in general, and refugees in particular."

During his three-day stay, the High Commissioner also met male and female refugees living in Brazil, which provides shelter to more than 4,400 refugees from 77 different nationalities. Brazil is also one of the few countries in the world that offers resettlement to refugees.

The refugees from Asia, South America, Africa and the Caribbean told their visitor about the integration challenges they face in Brazil, including finding employment, becoming self-sufficient, obtaining decent housing, access to education and more.

"Their stories make clear that Brazil has some of the most advanced refugee legislation in the world, in terms of protection and rights. But complex integration problems persist within Brazilian society," Guterres noted.

He added that UNHCR welcomed the government's decision to increase the budget for local integration initiatives, saying that this would help make the integration of refugees in Brazilian society "more harmonious."

Guterres also participated in a conference at the Universidade de Brasilia, where he called for "a social mobilization against xenophobia, racism and intolerance," which he said were among the main threats to the protection of refugees on a global scale.

Meanwhile Barreto, who also heads Brazil's National Committee for Refugees, said that continuing forced displacement crises in the world "confirms the necessity of having a strong UNHCR, as well as the need of internal legal systems to grant international protection."

By Luiz Fernando Godinho in Brasilia, Brazil




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian RefugeesPlay video

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian Refugees

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, Nigerian refugees get a chance to tell their stories to High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres during his visit.
Jordan: Winter Camp VisitPlay video

Jordan: Winter Camp Visit

Syrian refugees living in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan are still trying to overcome the damage done by the storm that hit the region last week. On his second day visiting Jordan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres visited the camp to see the impact of the damage. He was also able to hand them the key to their new home, a caravan that arrived part of a convoy to help those living in tents at the camp.
UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.