Enhancing Refugees' Integration: New Initiatives in Brazil
Jubilut, Liliana Lyra, Forced Migration Review
Recent initiatives in Brazil have strengthened protection and enhanced integration opportunities for refugees.
Brazil's commitment to refugee law and protection since the mid-1950s resulted in the passing of a bill on refugees in 1997 (Law 9474). This not only broadened protection for refugees by including gross violation of human rights as a criterion for refugee status but also created an administrative procedure for refugee status determination (RSD) and established the basis for refugee protection and integration in Brazil. This third task is undertaken by the Brazilian government, UNHCR and civil society together. Bringing social actors other than the government into the fold is regarded as a positive aspect of refugee protection and integration in Brazil, providing for a more holistic commitment to the cause of refugees. The government is, however, the most relevant actor in refugee protection, given that the National Committee on Refugees (CONARE), which has responsibility for RSD, votes by simple majority and is composed of six representatives of government and only one representative of civil society.
Civil society, on the other hand, has led the way in supporting the integration of refugees in Brazil, providing, through direct work or partnership, up to 60% of the total budget for refugee integration in the country. This highlights the fact that in the first 10 years of modern refugee protection in the country, the focus of the government seems to have been on eligibility rather than on integration. This trend, however, has started to change since the 10th anniversary of the 1997 law.
Since 2007 the Brazilian government has begun to devote attention both to refugee protection (through maintaining procedures on RSD that uphold international standards) and refugee integration, and has started to establish public policies on refugees. The federal government is looking into the insertion of refugees in existing public policies in Brazil; where this is not possible, it is considering the creation of specific public policies for refugees.
Concern for the economic and social rights of refugees has now extended to the local government level where there have been new initiatives to improve refugee protection through integration.
State Committees on Refugees
One of these initiatives has been the creation of State Committees on Refugees, in the states of Säo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. These two states have the two most relevant centres for refugee protection in the country, given that the two UNHCR implementing partners for local integration are in these cities and assist over 90% of the refugees in Brazil.1
The first State Committee on Refugees was established in Sao Paulo in April 2008, presided over by the Secretary of Justice and the Defence of Citizenship. It brings together representatives from several other ministries - Economy and Planning, Housing, Assistance and Social Development, Employment and Work Relations, Education, Health, Institutional Relations, Culture, and Public Security - and from UNHCR, local UNHCR implementing partners and State defence attorneys. …