World Refugee Survey 2009: Brazil
Brazil hosts more than 21,000 refugees, the largest group being to these registered the roughly 17,500 de facto Colombian refugees in Amazon region. During 2008, Brazil's refugee resettlement program accepted 117 refugees.
2008 Events Summary
There were no reports of refoulement during 2008. In March, Brazil granted asylum to three Cuban musicians who requested asylum during a musical tour in late 2007. Around 600 Bolivians fled to Brazil following September conflict in Pando, with 73 officially requesting asylum. In November, the Comitê Nacional para os Refugiados (CONARE) denied refugee status to an Italian left-wing activist. However, January in 2009, the Ministry of Justice granted him a status of political refugee.
Law and Policy
Brazil is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (1984 Cartagena Declaration). Drafted with the assistance of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Brazil's 1997 Refugee Law incorporates the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which allows for refugee status based on generalized violence in addition to the 1951 Convention definition. Following its ratification of international agreements pertaining to refugees, Brazil's Justice Ministry created the CONARE, the national refugee agency. In 2004, Brazil signed the Mexico Declaration and Plan of Action to Strengthen International Protection of Refugees in Latin America (2004 Mexico Plan).
Asylum seekers can access the refugee status determination (RSD) process by approaching border authorities, at which point officials submit their declarations to CONARE for assessment. The decision of RSD is made at a meeting held by CONARE, which is composed of representatives from several government Ministries and civil society with UNHCR participating but not able to vote. The 1997 Refugee Law includes an appeals procedure for rejected applicants, over which the Minister of Justice has the final say. Asylum seekers have access to legal counsel, generally provided by public attorneys and bar associations.
Unrecognized Colombian refugees, who far outnumber recognized refugees, lack full access to protection facilities and to the RSD process because most settle in remote Amazon areas. UNHCR attributes this to local officials' unfamiliarity with refugee rights and to a minimal UNHCR presence in the Amazon region. As part of its implementation of the 2004 Mexico Plan's Solidarity Reception Program, Brazil maintains a resettlement program. Refugees have to pay fees to obtain permanent residence and citizenship, and there are often delays in the process.
Detention/Access to Courts
Asylum seekers detained on criminal charges have access to counsel.
Asylum seekers receive documents affirming their right to stay in Brazil while authorities assess their claims. Recognized refugees receive identity cards, like all other foreigners residing legally in the country. Due to technical difficulties, issuance of identity card are often delayed, however, refugees can make use of protocol which proves that they have already requested identity card. There have not been any reported incidents of failure to respect refugee identity cards by authorities in the Country.
Authorities accept refugees' documents, although refugees have difficulties dealing with private sector employers and other agencies.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Brazil does not maintain camps for refugees, who are free to move around the country and settle where they choose, but they have to inform authorities of address changes. Most refugees settle in urban areas.
Refugees wishing to travel internationally have to apply to CONARE, specifying dates of travel and their ability to pay. Upon approval, they receive a passport from the Federal Police, which authorities retain upon their return to Brazil.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
The 1997 Refugee Law grants refugees the right to work, but refugees have to obtain the same work permits required of nationals and other foreigners for formal employment. Entry to certain professions, including medicine, law, and engineering, depends on professional prerequisites that refugees do not always have, such as valid credentials and language proficiency.
Refugees working in the informal sector as street vendors have difficulty in gaining access, and some complain of exploitation in the workplace. Those registered as artisans are exempt from taxes.
Refugees have the same labor rights as citizens and qualify for social security benefits. Refugees holding the appropriate licenses can engage in business, but not in fields barred to foreigners, including mining, the media, and national transportation. They can hold bank accounts and own property.
Upon UNHCR urging, authorities removed the word "refugee" from work permits, which had confused some employers and prevented them from hiring refugees. Delays in receiving identity documents in the Amazon and São Paolo make it difficult for refugees to access credit.
Public Relief and Education
Brazil provides resettled refugees with assistance during their first six months to help them integrate. Refugees have access to Brazil's health, education, and skills training services.
Refugees in the Amazon region, however, lack access to public health services. Refugees can also receive grants for needy families (Bolsa Familia) administered through local governments. Preschool-aged children have the same rights as nationals to public childcare facilities, and refugee children and adolescents can freely enroll in public schools, although some refugees in the Amazon region have difficulty with access to schools.
UNHCR, through partner agencies, offers skills training, childcare, and counseling services to single refugee women with children.
UNHCR assisted in the preparation of the UN Development Assistance Framework for Brazil for 2007-11, which includes refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and other persons of concern to UNHCR. While Brazil does not exclude refugees from its poverty reduction strategies, refugee access to those strategies varies depending on the local.
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