Deutsche Welle published an article on DW-World.com website about the Brazilian law for refugees and mentioned the work carried out by Refugees United Brasil’s team.
We have translated the story that was originally published in Portuguese (http://www.dw-world.com/dw/article/0,,5167314,00.html) and Spanish (http://www.dw-world.com/dw/article/0,,5168793,00.html).
Brazilian law for refugees is considered remarkable
They come from Angola, Congo, Liberia, and Uganda and not always arrive in Brazil in a planned manner. With closed doors in Europe, refugees are going to Brazilian cities to start a new life.
She prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. As one of the many African women, Maria (not her real name) had to leave her country to preserve her life. Born in Uganda, at 43 years with four children, the social worker has abandoned her country accused by the government of being a “rebel.”
Maria chose Brazil as a shelter. “I knew I had a hard time being accepted in Europe. Brazil, for me it was safer.” For seven months she waits her case to be decided by the Brazilian government. Maria traveled alone, left the children in Uganda, in the age of 20, 17, 16 and 11 years.
The image of African men and women in overcrowded boats that roam the sea and try to reach a different continent is not part of the history of the refugees who arrive in Brazil. The dramatic scene, so common in countries bordering the Mediterranean, is far from the Brazilian imaginary.
Africans seeking a fresh start arriving in Brazil by conventional means, for commercial flights, among other passengers, as was the Mary’s case. And the Africans are the first in the list with a total number of 4,240 refugees in Brazil: they account for 64.8% of the total.
An Option for Refugees
Today, Brazil has an estimated population of 192 million people – slightly more than 4 thousand are legal refugees. “This ratio follows the Brazilian geographical disposition. It is hard to come here illegally, either by sea or by the dry border, stresses Renato Zerbini, ahead of the National Commission for Refugees, CONARE.
Moreover, Brazil has received more Africans over the years: “The borders in Europe were closed. It is almost impossible for Africans to land there … And there are countries that grant quotas for refugees, such as Italy. In Brazil we do not have it”, examines the specialist.
Currently, refugees from 75 different nationalities live as Brazilian citizens: most of them come from Angola. The list points secondly refugees from Colombia, followed by natives of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. “Some of them choose to live in Brazil. Young people, for example, are influenced by the football or the music. Because this is a Brazilian image reflected in Africa,” says Renato Zerbini.
The road to legality
According to Brazilian law, a foreigner entering the country with false documents is not precluded from asking for refuge. The National Committee for Refugees, established in 1997, provides that any person who is outside the country of nationality and has a well-founded fear of persecution can seek refuge in Brazil. “Many flee undocumented cross territories, do not even know where they are going,” says Zerbini.
When identified, the fugitives from the country of origin, provides information for the Federal Police of Brazil. CONARE’s officials interview the applicant, who is also accompanied by the UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees.
Until the case is decided, the candidate for the refuge receives financial assistance of up to one minimum wage. Typically, the refugees are in shelters and receive public assistance of Caritas, a Catholic Church organization.
The trial of the case takes on average six months and the acceptance of the refuge ranges from 35% to 55% in Brazil. “It’s a generous average compared with other countries, which is approximately 30%, compared Zerbini.
Supported the guidelines of the United Nations, Brazil did not accept those who have committed crimes against peace or crimes against humanity, war crime or offense, who has participated in terrorist acts or is involved in drug trafficking.
In assessing the UN agency for refugees in Brazil, the Brazilian law and reflects the UN Convention of 1951 that takes care of the matter. It is even regarded as broader than the Convention itself and it is highlighted because considers the violation of human rights a factor that excludes the right to refuge.
Dramatic stories in Brazilian territory
The CONARE’s file also keeps dramatic stories. Amongst them, two Cubans who, aboard a small boat, arrived in Santos – on the south coast of São Paulo state – thinking they were arriving in Miami, the United States.
There are also cases of Africans arriving in Brazilian ports in illegality: some are found in high seas. Two years ago, fishermen in Natal, northeastern Brazil, rescued at sea refugees tied to barrels. There were three fugitives who traveled from Africa to Brazil in the hold of a ship and, when discovered, were thrown overboard by sailors.
“When the ship calls, companies are responsible for the foreigners who are on board. And when crew members are found illegal, the sailors get rid of them for not having to pay to the government of where they land,” said Zerbini .
“When a refugee feels safe, the first thing he does is try to find who he lefts behind.” The story of Alexandra Aparício is based on her family history and professional experience: her mother took refuge in Brazil to escape communism in China in 1954. After growing up watching the anguish of grandparents in search of information from relatives, Alexandra decided to work for an agency that provides services to refugees.
Refugee United (RU) was founded in 2005 in Denmark and has offices in the United States and Brazil. The organization seeks to unite family with the help of the Internet: in Sao Paulo, there are two rooms with computers available for refugees to make inquiries on the RU’s website.
Alexandra says that there appear exciting stories: Iona, from Ethiopia managed to find his wife through the RU. She was in England, after having passed through Zimbabwe and Botswana.”Many who come here are Africans from Ethiopia, Uganda, Guinea, and Ivory Coast,” says Alexandra.
“They also come here to feel welcomed, to talk, to tell the story of the mother, father, and children left behind,” says Alexandra.
According to Renato Zerbini, refugees are welcomed by the population. “They come here thinking they will be mistreated, after all, is usually the case in European countries. But most can integrate well, they take jobs, study and make their life here,” he concludes.