Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR expands support to refugees and host communities in Brazil as COVID-19 takes its toll

Briefing notes

UNHCR expands support to refugees and host communities in Brazil as COVID-19 takes its toll

24 July 2020 Also available in:
Brazil. Indigenous Warao mother recovers from coronavirus.
Dialisa Mata, an indigenous Warao woman from Venezuela, was petrified when she came down with COVID-19 but she made a swift recovery in a field hospital in northern Brazil.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is stepping up efforts in Brazil to protect tens of thousands of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities, as the Latin American country battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazil has become the second worst affected country in the world, with nearly 83,000 confirmed deaths and a continuing increase in confirmed cases.

Considered an epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, the situation is taking its toll on the most vulnerable – including the poorest, indigenous populations and other native communities, as well as refugees. All have been disproportionately impacted.

Brazil is host to more than 345,000 refugees and asylum seekers, for whom the consequences of the pandemic are especially harsh.

While the total number of refugees who have contracted the virus in Brazil is unknown owing to the fact that disaggregated data based on status is not available and absence of widespread testing, UNHCR is aware of at least 19 COVID-19 related deaths among refugees of whom nine were indigenous Venezuelan refugees.

Since the onset of the pandemic, UNHCR has been supporting local and national authorities in prevention and response efforts. The agency has been scaling-up its support to help mitigate the threat of the virus among refugees, migrants and the local communities hosting them by providing infrastructure to strengthen the national health system, cash assistance, hygiene items and life-saving information such as informative sessions on preventive measures.

Since March, UNHCR has been supporting an emergency hospital in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern border state of Roraima, which has the capacity to treat and isolate up to 1,782 COVID-19 confirmed and suspected patients.

To date, 625 Venezuelans and many Brazilians – including indigenous Brazilians - have received care at the hospital. More than 570 people have recovered, and many others under isolation have now finished their quarantine period. Twenty people – including refugees, migrants and Brazilians have however sadly lost their lives.

This hospital is also staffed with Venezuelan health workers who have contributed to life-saving efforts, utilizing their experience and skills, joining their Brazilian peers in the response.

UNHCR is also addressing rising humanitarian and health needs among refugees living on the streets, and in overcrowded shelters and unsanitary conditions in the northern regions of Brazil, including in Amazonas, Roraima and Para states.

In the Amazonas state, one of the most affected regions in the country, with more than 92,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 COVID-related deaths, UNHCR and partners supported local authorities with housing relocations for more than 170 indigenous Venezuelan refugees. Their new accommodation provides more adequate shelter and sanitation facilities, better protecting them against the risk of the virus.

In an effort to limit the spread and impact of the virus, UNHCR is enhancing community awareness efforts, including through information campaigns and preventive information sessions in the different indigenous languages. Hygiene promotion has also been scaled up in temporary shelters: hand-washing stations have been installed and soap distribution continue to take place since the beginning of March.

As socio-economic conditions worsen among refugee and asylum seeker communities, UNHCR has been disbursing cash assistance to those most vulnerable, including to single mothers, people facing eviction, those severe health issues and survivors of violence.

In the first half of the year, UNHCR has distributed US $325,000 has been distributed to more than 3,100 refugees and asylum seekers. At the same time, UNHCR is connecting vulnerable refugees and migrants to the federal government’s emergency cash programme.

Due to limited resources and exponentially increasing needs, UNHCR can only provide cash assistance to 24 per cent of those assessed to be in need.

Given the onset of the winter, which dramatically compounds the vulnerability of displaced populations, UNHCR is providing shelter, household and winter assistance. Some 15,000 refugees have received mattresses, hammocks, cleaning and hygiene kits, mosquitoes’ nets, buckets, jerry cans, solar lamps and other forms of assistance. Amongst the beneficiaries are some 2,300 indigenous Venezuelans, representing almost half of the existing Venezuelan indigenous population in the country.  More than a ton of winter clothes donated to UNHCR have been distributed with the help of partners to displaced and affected people in central and southern states of the country. 


For more information on this topic, please contact: