Handicrafts expertise helps resettled refugee make good in Brazil

News Stories, 10 October 2007

© UNHCR/V.Graziano
Luis Eduardo Garzon with his handicrafts at the annual national fair for small-scale farmers in Brasilia.

BRASILIA, Brazil, October 10 (UNHCR) Luis Eduardo Garzón looked pleased as punch when his products went on show last week in Brasilia at the annual national fair for small-scale farmers. Many visitors, however, might have been wondering what he was doing there.

Garzón, a 43-year-old resettled refugee from Colombia, makes colourful masks, figurines and keyring ornaments and his offerings might have looked a bit out of place alongside all the agricultural produce. But it's the raw material that he uses that qualified him to take part in the state-sponsored fair organic goods such as orange peel, cashew nuts, dried leaves and seeds.

"I am very happy with the opportunity to show my handicrafts to the whole country," he said, adding that participation in the fair would help his business as he had made contacts, received national exposure and picked up new ideas.

Garzón's presence in Brasilia was a tribute to his skill and long experience as a maker of handicrafts, which he and his wife learnt and practised in their native Caldas region of Colombia before fleeing with their daughter to neighbouring Ecuador in April 2005 due to persecution by irregular armed groups.

It was also evidence that Brazil's policies on resettlement and local integration of former refugees can work very well. The huge, vibrant South American nation home to some 3,500 refugees has resettled almost 250 refugees under a 1999 agreement with UNHCR. The figure includes more than 100 Palestinians who have arrived in Brazil from a desert camp in Jordan over the past month.

Garzón became a candidate for resettlement while in Ecuador, where he complained of continuing persecution. UNHCR referred his case to Brazil and the integration process began once he had been accepted for resettlement and flown to this country about one year ago.

He was interviewed by government and UNHCR officials and their civil society partners. They decided that Garzón and his family boosted by the arrival of a grandchild would be suitable for resettlement in the coastal city of Natal in northern Brazil's Rio Grande do Norto state.

To ease the growing pains of a new life in Brazil, UNHCR and its local partner, Centro de Direitos Humanos e Memória Popular (CDHMP), gave them general information and advice about their legal rights. They were registered in a municipal programme to finance their house and also to the public health system, while their daughter signed up for social welfare assistance.

"We have a positive result in the social integration and adaptation process," said CDHMP's director, Aluízio Matias. "Now our major objective, the major challenge we are facing, is the economic integration."

That seems to be on the right track. Garzón and his wife are registered with the Natal municipal authorities as artisans, which means that they can display their handicrafts there and sell them without paying taxes.

Now free from violence and fear, Garzón has also gained inspiration for his trade in Brazil. "I started to learn about the seeds, leaves and fruits from the region to use them in my work," he said. "Me and my family eat a lot of oranges here, because it is a cheap fruit, so I started to develop handicrafts with the peels."

Garzón and his wife earn enough to support the family from sales of handicrafts and artisanal classes at local institutions. The next step was reaching a bigger audience. UNHCR and CDHMP again stepped in, arranging his presence at the Brasilia fair.

The success of the Garzón family could be an inspiration to the Palestinians who have just started their new lives in one of the few South American countries with a resettlement programme.

Brazil's resettlement programme was established within the framework of the Mexico Plan of Action, signed in 2004 by 20 countries in the region.

By Valéria Graziano in Brasilia, Brazil