Education eases the integration of refugees in north-east Brazil

News Stories, 15 July 2010

© UNHCR/J.Galvão
Juán Carlos in the classroom at his school in Natal, Brazil.

NATAL, Brazil, July 15 (UNHCR) Juán Carlos has settled down very well at the school he joined just over a year ago in the city of Natal on north-east Brazil's Atlantic coast. He loves studying, particularly English, social sciences and history, and has made many friends.

The 12-year-old is one of five Colombians studying at the Newton Braga School under a UNHCR-supported programme aimed at easing the integration of refugees. Juán Carlos and his parents fled from the Colombian city of Cali four years ago and found refuge in Ecuador before moving to Natal in 2008.

"I know everybody and am very happy," he said, while adding: "The hardest part was learning how to write well in Portuguese." Brazilians speak Portuguese but the Colombians speak Spanish.

However, Juán Carlos is now fluent in Portuguese, which is helping him to integrate and boosting his chances of a bright future. Carlos Alves, deputy head of Newton Braga School, said the refugee students integrated well and performed to the same standards as their Brazilian schoolmates.

In a town near Natal, another resettled Colombian refugee, 31-year-old Marta Gesênia, has just enrolled her infant daughter, Oriana, in a pre-school with the support of the Solidarity Resettlement Programme, which has been implemented by the Brazilian government since 2004 in partnership with UNHCR, civil society and the private sector.

Andrés Ramirez, UNHCR's representative in Brazil, explained the refugee agency's support for the scheme. "Every refugee, be they a child, a young person or an adult, has the right to education," he said, adding that education "allows them to get back to a normal routine and to build a better future."

In Rio Grande do Norte state, of which Natal is the capital, UNHCR has been promoting access to education in cooperation with the Centro de Direitos Humanos e Memória Popular (Human Rights and Popular Memory Centre) and schools such as Newton Braga.

The access to education programme can also help in the integration of refugee parents as it frees up their time and allows them to look for work. "The advantage of leaving my daughter in a reliable pre-school is to have time to devote myself to studying, taking care of the house and taking part in the professional training courses provided by the resettlement programme," Gesênia noted.

"Children integrate more easily, and so do families, as parents take part in meetings and events organized in the school," said Claudia Gibson, principal of the public educational institution, Centro Municipal de Educação Infantil Soraia.

UNHCR support 62 refugees in Rio Grande do Norto, mostly Colombians. Brazil provides shelter to around 4,300 refugees from 76 countries.

By Janaína Galvão in Natal, Brazil