UNHCR welcomes Brazil humanitarian visas for Syrians fleeing conflict

Briefing Notes, 27 September 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 September 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes this week's announcement by Brazil's National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) of special humanitarian visas for Syrians and other nationals affected by the Syrian conflict and who wish to seek refuge in Brazil.

The decision will help expedite entry to Brazil and the resolution providing this special procedure is valid for two years.

According to the announcement, Brazil's embassies in countries neighbouring Syria will be responsible for issuing travel visas for people wanting to go there. Claims for asylum will need to be presented on arrival in Brazil. These special humanitarian visas will also be provided to family members living in countries neighbouring Syria.

Brazil is the first country in the Americas region to adopt such an approach towards Syrian refugees.

An estimated three million Brazilians have Syrian ancestry, mainly from a wave of immigration that occurred at around the start of the 20th century.

So far the number of refugees from the Syria crisis in Brazil has been small, with around 280 individuals having been recognized by CONARE.

There are no pending asylum claims and Brazil has approved 100 per cent of the claims that have been presented.

However, according to the Ministry of Justice, the number has been gradually increasing.

The procedure announced by the Brazilian government is consistent with the provisions made by the 1st article of the country's refugee law.

Currently some 3,000 asylum-seekers and some 4,300 refugees are living in Brazil. Most are from Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

UNHCR has called on States to provide for humanitarian admissions of up to 10,000 refugees from Syria in 2013. Humanitarian admission is an expedited process that can provide an immediate solution for those in greatest need while a resettlement programme is in its initial stages of implementation. It also allows for additional places outside of States' annual resettlement quotas.

To date, Germany has offered 5,000 places for the humanitarian admission of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, and Austria has offered 500. A number of other countries have come forward with offers of resettlement places. These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. As of 10 September these countries had pledged more than 1,650 resettlement places, 960 of which are for 2013. The United States of America has indicated that it is willing to consider an additional unspecified number of cases.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Brasilia: Luiz Fernando Godinho on mobile +5561 8187 0978
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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