UNHCR at Rio+20

June 6, 2012

Source: UNHCR

Climate change and displacement

Climate change, global warming and the resulting environmental pressures are among the defining challenges of our times. Climate change interacts with other global mega-trends that are conditioning the future of our planet, including population growth, urbanization, water scarcity, food and energy insecurity, and volatile commodity prices. This is adding to the scale and complexity of human mobility and displacement, and changing their patterns

Owing to this interaction, conflict and competition over scarcer natural resources will push more and more people to flee their homes or relocate to other areas. They will become displaced within their countries or across national borders. Environmentally induced migration and displacement could reach epic dimensions: predictions about the scale of such movements range from 25 million to one billion people by 2050.

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Brazilian law for refugees is considered remarkable

January 26, 2010

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).

Good reading!

Refugees United

Brazilian law for refugees is considered remarkable

Most of the refugees in Brazil come from Angola

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.

Instead of crowding boats, most of the refugees arriving by plane

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.

Angolan refugees in Brazil fled from the civil war of the 1990s

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 .

Reunion tentative
“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.

Christmas of the stateless people

January 4, 2010

We translated an article about Casa do Migrante, a Refugees United’s partner, which offers shelter to the refugees that arrive in Brazil.

This is the original link (in Portuguese) of the article published in O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. (http://www.estadao.com.br/estadaodehoje/20091227/not_imp487390,0.php)

Good reading!

Refugees United

Christmas of the stateless men

In a shelter located in São Paulo city, they celebrate this date far away from their origins, their cultures and their relatives

Along with the holiday memories that the Sierra Leonese Alimamy Mohames, age 25, carries, lies one of a large party throughout the streets of the city of Masiaka. “During this time of the year, all you see is joy over there”, he remembers, with nostalgia in his eyes. “The national soccer tournament is over, everyone celebrates and, on Christmas day, there is an enormous show for the people. Despite being a Muslim, I like to give out presents and have a drink with my mates.”

The last December 25th, however, was different for him. Mohames could not celebrate with his friends and relatives. Living in Brazil since October 19th, he spent Christmas in Paraná, with refugees from Ghana and Senegal, in search of a job. Mohames says he fled from his country, “in order not to die”. Estado spoke with him on the last December 22nd, at the Casa do Migrante, an institution supported by the Catholic Church in downtown São Paulo. At that time, Mohames was already packing for Paraná.

Threatening notes
There are currently 80 men and 20 women living at the Casa do Migrante’s 30 bedrooms. They are mostly individuals who have sought asylum in Brazil due to racial, social or religious persecution in their homelands. Other have suffered severe human rights violations. For having been attacked, raped, rejected, offended and faced with death threats, they are considered refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Mohames’ story is a living example of that. In the 90s, when a civil war overtook the African country, his family did not accept to join the rebels who were taking the president down. In 1997, the same year in which the coup took place, his mother and father were killed by soldiers. “The rebels attacked my house on my birthday”, he recalls, with tears in his eyes. “Look at what they did”, he says, showing a picture of his mother with her throat cut – her head separated from her body. “They used to send copies of this photo to me, alongside a note which said: ‘you were lucky’”.

Indeed he was. Mohames only escaped the massacre because on that night he was sleeping over at a friend’s house. He had just turned 12. After becoming an orphan, he was raised by an uncle and two older brothers (one of them does not have his arms, cut down during the war). “Even after the peacekeeping troops entered Sierra Leone and ended the conflict, they continued to persecute me”, says Mohames. He also expresses a certain pride of the fact that the rebels hated his father for having been a notorious oppositionist to them, and especially because of the success he had achieved in his city. “I am a professor, graduated in Linguistics and currently studying Sociology, I speak eight languages and was elected the second best student in my country. This irritated them”.

As time went by, the threats became more frequent. “I would find threatening notes on top of my bed when coming back home”, he says. In August, a friend of his father gave him airline tickets to come to Brazil and imposed on him: “go and make your life longer”. Mohames first traveled to Senegal, where he waited for his flight over here. He has arrived around three months ago, in Sao Paulo, and with only USD 100 in his pockets, he started living at the Casa do Migrante, from where he left, alongside other refugees, in hope of finding a job in a meat producer industry at the southern State of Paraná.

The Sierra Leonese is one of the 4.2 thousand refugees in Brazil who will spend the holidays away from their home countries. “I won’t even celebrate, because I don’t have enough happiness for that”, he indicates. “I am in a land in which I cannot communicate, because I don’t speak Portuguese. I can’t find a job, I can’t share the knowledge I acquired in the university, and I live without my friends and siblings”.

Not everyone who is facing the same situation as Mohames looks at this time of the year with sadness, though. The Sudanese Yvon Paka, who arrived at the Casa do Migrante on October 3rd, is filled with joy. Smiling, he feels very happy for celebrating Christmas with his roommates. “I love Brazil”, he says in a poor and accent-heavy Portuguese. “Over here there are no dead children on the streets and I can walk around fearless”. A Christian, Paka was persecuted by Muslims, the predominant religion in Sudan. “They will curse, rape, beat and kill those who are not like themselves”, he reports. “I hate them”, he says, while helping his friend Mohames, a Muslim, to pack his bags. “But the ones who are here at this house are nice”, he highlights.

Paka celebrated Christmas’ Eve with a supper alongside his colleagues from Casa do Migrante. Four cooks prepared ten kilos of rice, seven of potatoes, 20 of manioc flour, two turkeys and seven hams. For dessert, 200 stick-ice creams were served. “This is a much fuller dinner than most of them would have had in their home countries”, says the priest Mario Geremia, vice-director of the house and coordinator of the Pastoral do Migrante. The table was set by a group of refugees and immigrants. “They need to feel at home here and, by consequence, take care of this space as if they were in their own homes”. The priest believes that organizing a Christmas supper is a way of showing them that they have found shelter, and that they are now protected and among friends.

The Nepalese Kamal Galltam loved the food. In poor English, he defined: “good”. Galltam arrived in Brazil a year ago. He says he lost his house in Nepal in 2007, when an avalanche hit his house and killed his parents. He came to this country illegally, down at ship’s basement. When he arrived here, he lived in the streets of Sao Paulo, without any money or food, and speaking no Portuguese. Police officers found him in these conditions and took him to the Casa do Migrante. Underfed, he spent two months having only milk. Today, he says he still has severe headaches everytime he is hungry. At the table, besides his refugee colleagues, Galltam ate two plates full of ham, rice and manioc flour. And even if not being able to speak his colleagues’ languages, hugged everyone, wishing them Merry Christmas.

“This is a true Babel Tower. With only one difference: despite the language barrier, everyone understands each other”, defines the priest Geremia. “They take this institution as their true home”, says the social worker Marcia Lourdes de Araujo, who works there with 30 other employees from the most diversified areas. “Because of that, they create strong ties with the other refugees and employees. The social worker becomes a mother, the doorman becomes a brother, the roommate suddenly is a best friend…”

Lives at a crossroad
Born in Eritrea, Rahwa Micael, age 28, has been in Brazil for a year – with her son Natan, age 2. She was a radio operator for the Armed Forces in her country, but turned the job down in order to work as a waitress in the neighbouring Sudan. “The military came looking for me at my parents’ house and, as they did not know where I was, they ended up being arrested”, she recalls. From Sudan, she managed to get a ticket to Brazil. “I miss my parents and my husband, who is living as a refugee in Egypt”, she says, right after making a call on the public phone installed at the Casa do Migrante.

Eric Nawike, age 19, from Ghana, still does not know everyone at the house, where he arrived only a few days ago. His father was killed at the civil war. He decided to flee from his country in order not to have the same destiny. “I boarded a ship, hiding. I did not even know where it was going to”, he reveals. “I spent two weeks aboard, as a clandestine”. In Santos, where he disembarked, he begged for money in order to buy his bus ticket to Sao Paulo. His dream is to find a job. In Ghana, Nawike was a carpenter. About Brazil I only knew two things: one, it is the land of soccer, and two, there are many Catholics here”, he says – himself being a Catholic.

Also from Ghana, Inusah Abubakar, age 29, arrived in Brazil two months ago. “I came here in order to make my life longer”, he summarizes. As his fellow country man, he’s lost his father in the civil war. There, his family has a rural property with cattle. “They sold some cows in order to pay for my airline ticket. If we had enough money, the entire family would have come”.

Antonio Roldan Gomez, age 31, came from Cuba. “I belong to a party which is oppositionist to the government”, he explains. A political prisoner, he managed to flee and start a life in Paraguay. After that, he spent one year hiding in Foz do Iguaçu, in Parana, until he could come to São Paulo, hitchhiking, a month ago. “I haven’t seen my young son, my wife and my parents in four years”, he says. “I can’t go to Cuba, or else I will be arrested. And they do not give permission for my family to leave from there either”. He complements: “One day, if I can, I will bring my entire family here and live in Brazil for the rest of my life”.

According to the UNHCR, most of the 4.2 thousand refugees from 75 nationalities currently living in Brazil are from Africa. In second place is South America. The largest group of refugees is from Angola: 1,688 have found shelter here. After them are the Colombians (598) and Congolese (392). Around half of all refugees are in the State of Sao Paulo.

“They flee especially from nations in a state of civil war, and they choose to come here because it is a welcoming country, with fragile borders. They arrive penniless”, explains the philosopher and lawyer Guilherme Assis de Almeida, coordinator at the State Committee for Refugees of São Paulo, which accounts for State offices and institutions who give assistance to this sector. “And they are happy here due to the fact that they do not face constant threats and are not under death risk as in their home lands. So, in my opinion, they end up spending much merrier holidays”.

Source: O Estado de S.Paulo

Internet helps refugees to overcome loneliness in Brasil

December 24, 2009

UNHCR Brazil has featured an article on Refugees United and its efforts to reunite refugee families. Please, find bellow the translation of the article. This is the link of the original one in Portuguese. (http://www.acnur.org/t3/portugues/noticias/noticia/internet-ajuda-refugiados-a-vencer-a-solidao-no-brasil/)

Asylum seeker in Brazil uses the internet to contact family in Africa (Photo: C. Montenegro/© ACNUR)

Internet helps to overcome loneliness in Brazil

The Eritrean Yonas Samuel arrived in Brazil early this year, coming from South Africa. Years of fleeing from several African countries. Desperate to find his wife and daughter he left in Zimbabwe, he found the solution in a site specialized in reuniting the refugees.

For the asylum seeker Euphrem D’Fagbenou, who came from Benin a year ago, the internet helps to overcome the homesickness and is also a tool for social inclusion in Brazil. “I often talk online with my relatives in Africa, at least once a week. But I come here to meet friends I made in Brazil, find a job, read news about Sao Paulo, “said the young man, 23, who left his country after suffering persecution for being part of a union group.

The two cases are examples of how the internet today is part of the routine of refugees in urban centers and helps them to adapt to the new host country. In a city like Sao Paulo there are more points of access to the internet to serve the refugees. Two spaces increasingly sought are the free of charge internet rooms of Refugees United (RU) and SESC Carmo, both located in downtown where the access to those places is easy due to the many options of public transportation.

D’Fagbenou is a regular visitor of Refugees United (RU), an international organization that promotes refugee family reunion around the world by the web. “Here I also made many friends; I met other refugees and the Brazilians who are the volunteers in this space. Here I feel at home, “says the African.

At RU’s office, 14 volunteers support refugees and asylum seekers twice a week. Many of them have personal and family stories similar to the refugees’ and therefore sympathize with the work. “My family survived the Holocaust; my mother was born in Poland and came to Brazil when she was 11 years old. My grandparents met again in the midst of war with the help of Red Cross and they fled to Brazil as stateless people. I always had an unfulfilled desire to work with refugees because of this past, “says journalist Karin Fusaro, RU’s volunteer since early 2009.

On Refugees United site, refugees register in anonymously and confidentially way into a database, indicating personal characteristics (such as scars and last name). Data that only family and close friends could recognize and use to find them again. Samuel is the successful story of RU office in Brazil. The organization is headquartered in Denmark and has a branch in United States.

He registered in RU, after receiving a suggestion from RU’s partner NGO Caritas in Sao Paulo and a week later received the first contact from a woman refugee in the United Kingdom, who was seeking for her husband for years. Samuel was recognized by his wife because he mentioned the word “expresso” in his profile. “The family used to make fun and call him this way because it was his favorite drink,” says the lawyer Naomi Maruyama who witnessed the message exchanges between Samuel and his wife on the internet. “It was very exciting. He said that we gave him back the reason to live, “she added .

Businessman and political activist in Eritrea, Samuel was emigrating from one country to another in searching for protection from persecution since 1998. He lived in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa before arriving in Brazil. He sought his family for a year without success. He tried to contact them by telephone, letters, friends and relatives, but the solution came with the Internet.

Before the expansion of the internet, the refugees used to ask for help of compatriots who came from their home countries, in order to get news about family and relatives. Today, these people also read newspapers from their countries and listen to regional music through the computers.

“Until 2001, the Internet services were more restricted in this city. Today several subway stations and bus terminals rely on access points to the web, “said Denise Collus, social worker of SESC Carmo. Since 2000, the city of Sao Paulo has implemented the program AcessaSP to promote digital inclusion and today there are 512 free access points around the city.

“Here at SESC, about 120 people use our computers every week. Each person can be connected for up to 30 minutes a day, but we still have queues”, adds Denise. At SESC Carmo there’s a free internet room with 16 flat screen computers, waiting room and professionals that guide the users.

According to Denise, the demand for the service by the refugees has increased in the recent years. “The internet today helps to break the solitude of many of them. There are more and more cases like the one of a young Cuban woman that through the web has accompanied the growth of her son who stayed with relatives in their homeland, or a Congolese refugee who spoke for five years with his wife and children in Africa through the internet, “she explains.

“The online search for employment also became quite common. For many refugees the email is their primary address because they don’t feel comfortable in sending the contacts of the shelters where they live to the potential employers , “says Denise.

The majority of refugees who use the SESC’s Internet services are 22 to 35 years old and had accessed the web before. “This is because the Internet has become increasingly popular, but also refugees who come to Brazil usually are well educated and had access to high level scholarship in their countries,” adds Denise.

Source: ACNUR

Brazil stands out in the report of the U.S. Committee for Refugees

September 4, 2009

The country is among those that best shelter refugees in the world

By Carolina Montenegro*

Brazil, Ecuador and Costa Rica were named as the best countries for refugees in the world, according to the 2009 Refugee World Survey of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

On the opposite side, there are Thailand, South Africa, Gaza, Malaysia, Kenya, Egypt and Turkey – places where human rights violations prevail, alongside lack of adequate care for refugees.

The organization, which for about 100 years has been one of the most active voices in defense of international rights of refugees, publishes the study annually. The countries listed in the research are assessed according to criteria such as physical protection, detention, access to justice, freedom of movement and right to employment.

Quoting figures from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the report indicates that, in Brazil, there were 21,400 registered refugees and asylum seekers in 2008. Most of them came from Colombia and Angola.

The text notes that “refugees receive documents that ensure their right to stay in Brazil, have the right to have IDs, as any foreigner residing legally in the country”.

Other positive points highlighted are the rights of “asylum seekers arrested for a felony charge to have access to a state lawyer” and “the lack of refugee camps in the country, there is freedom of movement and refugees can settle wherever they want”. The exception is the resettlement program of the Brazilian government with the UNHCR, which serves only Colombians and a group of 117 Palestinians who came to the country in 2007 and provides pre-determined cities to receive refugees, according to assistance and adaptation inquiries.

Most refugees sheltered in Brazil choose to live in urban areas and those who want to go on international travels can make a request to CONARE (Brazilian National Council for Refugees), if they can pay for their own travel expenses. The Brazilian nationality, however, can only be acquired after almost 10 years of residence in Brazil.

Regarding the access to the labor market, the research shows that refugees also enjoy the same labor rights as Brazilian citizens. They are allowed to have bank accounts and to own properties.

On the other hand, economic sectors barred to foreigners in general, such as mining, media and transportation, are also restricted to refugees. “And the delay in receiving the identity documents in the states of Amazonas and São Paulo made it difficult for refugees to have access to credit”.

Such difficulties are far from the harsh reality that refugees face in other countries. Last year, Thailand’s navy returned dozens of boats full of refugees from Myanmar to the sea. In South Africa, xenophobic attacks killed dozens of foreigners and led thousands to flee their homes.

In Gaza, an Israeli offensive group killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. In Malaysia, refugees deported are sold as slaves. In Kenya, the overcrowding in refugee camps remains, kept for decades to shelter Somali and cases of forced deportation, violence and corruption at the border between the countries are increasingly often.

In Egypt, police shot and killed over 30 African immigrants who were trying to cross the border into Israel. While Turkey has maintained the policy of deporting hundreds of asylum seekers back to their countries of origin, without any guarantee of protection. There was an episode in which four people drowned when they were forced to swim across a river back to Iraq.

To read the report, visit: http://www.refugees.org/FTP/WRS09PDFS/BestandWorst.pdf

* Refugees United Special Reporter