The number of refugee status requests to Brazil is increasing and some of the reasons for the increase, according to the Ministry of Justice, are economic development, the country’s growing international relevance and its commitment to human rights.
According to Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees (Conare), in 2010 the country received 566 refugee status requests. Last year, the total was 5,256. Currently ,many requests are being placed by Syrians.
According to the general coordinator for refugee affairs of the Ministry of Justice, Virginius França, people from conflict-ridden countries tend to seek asylum locally or in neighboring nations. Such is the case of Iraq.
Despite its political instability, the country receives many refugees. Another case is Ecuador, home to 55,000 Colombians who have left their country due to the conflict between the government and guerrilla groups.
Although it receives less refugee status requests than Iraq and Colombia, Brazil is attracting more and more people from conflict-ridden places.
“The reasons for this increase are manifold. They include Brazil’s position/stance in the United Nations and its leadership in human rights-related issues, in addition to the fact that the economy is growing and major international events cause the country to be seen in a new light. The serious crises of the last three years have also played a part,” said França.
Nearly 55% of asylum requests made to the country are accepted. The remaining requests are denied.
Refugee status is granted to people who claim to be in a life-threatening situation due to reasons such as race, religion, social group, nationality or diverging political opinions. In order to obtain refugee status, the applicant is required to be in Brazil, fill out a form, and sit an interview, among other steps.
The decision to grant refugee status or not is made at a plenary meeting of the Conare, an agency comprising officials from the ministries of Justice, Foreign Relations, Labor and Employment, Health, and Education, plus the Federal Police Department, the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro chapters of non-government refugee assistance organization Cáritas Arquidiocesana, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has no voting rights.
At the first plenary meeting to grant refugee status this year, held on Wednesday (July 30th), most of the applicants whose requests were accepted were Syrian. Out of 680 requests accepted, 532 were from Syrians.
Another 57 requests by people from Mali, another conflict-stricken country, were accepted. There were also 21 requests made by people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 19 requests by Nigerians.
From Arab countries, requests from one Palestinian, one Sudanese and one Lebanese were approved. People from Colombia, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Serbia and Togo were also granted asylum in Brazil. The requests accepted at the plenary were made between 2012 and 2014. The time it takes for a request to be processed may vary.
According to França, a large number of requests by Syrian asylum-seekers are being accepted due to the conflict that broke out in the country in 2011.
He said it is impossible to know their places of residence once their requests are accepted, since they are not monitored. Most requests, from Syrians and otherwise, are placed in São Paulo. According to França, the refugees tend to stay in the city.
“They have the right to come and go as they please within Brazilian territory. Most of the people whose requests are accepted prefer to stay in more economically developed locations. Brazil is home to the largest Syrian-Lebanese community in the world and the refugees prefer to stay in São Paulo, because there are lots of immigrants in the city and they are welcomed. The Congolese usually go to Rio de Janeiro. They tend to stay in South and Southeast Brazil,” he said.
According to Conare figures, 85% to 90% of the refugees are men aged from 20 to 40. Those who receive refugee status can apply for an ID card and a work permit. A total of 6,588 refugees live in Brazil.
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