When he begins his third term on January 1, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (PT) must face a scenario of migration and refuge in Brazil that is very different from what he observed during his last stay in the Planalto, more than a decade ago. The challenge is greater.
In 2010, 619 people applied for asylum in Brazil. Twelve years later, the number exceeds 40 thousand —considering data up to October. The figure is driven by Venezuelans, but also includes constant flows of Angolans, Nigerians and Haitians, among other nationalities.
It is minimal, however, the portion of those who have the request accepted. This year, 32,000 requests were analyzed, but only 3,800 were granted. The analysis of applications also takes time: official data suggest that the average time would be two and a half years, but cases in which this period is much longer are common.
Applicants then even manage to access basic rights, but live in a situation of constant insecurity. “They remain in a sort of waiting period”, says João Chaves, coordinator of Migrations and Refuges at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in São Paulo (DPU).
Data from the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) show that Brazil is the third country in the Americas in number of unanswered requests, with 197,000. Ahead are just USA (1.3 million) and Peru (530 mil).
There are stories like that of Angolan Patrick Bacisa, 35. In the country since 2019, he immigrated after becoming paralyzed in a shooting attack while working for a foreign transport company. With little access to medical care in Angola, developed sores that got worse. In court, he tried to obtain a lifetime pension and compensation from employers. Until the threats started.
“My boss said that his money would speak louder and that I would suffer. They called me and said that they already knew my house. I was scared, because I know the reality of my country.”
Now, Bacisa is trying to bring a cousin to Brazil to help him with work, day-to-day tasks and recovery from medical procedures he needs to do at SUS. Without recognition of refugee status, however, it is not possible to request the relative to come.
“It’s an experience of insecurity and uncertainty”, says psychologist and internationalist Andressa Martino. “People don’t know if what they’re asking for is going to work; there’s a psychological aspect of fear and apprehension, in addition to the difficulty of making medium or long-term plans. They don’t belong in any category.”
The issue, neglected for years, has now reached the Lula government’s lap. For experts, some proposals are on the table. One of them would be to increase the service capacity of Conare, the National Committee for Refugees, linked to the Ministry of Justice —folder that will be under the baton of Flávio Dino (PSB). Another, not necessarily exclusive, would be to implement a migratory amnesty.
The measure, through which all applicants in Brazil would be granted refuge, was suggested in 2017, when the Migration Law was sanctioned, but ended up vetoed by the then presidentMichel Temer (MDB).
“There, we lost an important window of opportunity”, says Chaves, from the DPU. “The number of people seeking refuge has grown a lot in the last ten years, while Conare’s processing capacity has not increased. It is a dysfunctional system.”
To Sheet the senator Paulo Paim (PT), vice-president of the congressional commission on migrations and refugees, says he is in favor of the amnesty proposal. “Our lack of capacity to receive these people meant that they were received without the due legal procedure of broad defense. There is no structure to assist them and legalize their situation.”
Paim also claims to have presented other proposals to the transitional government that dialogue with important areas for future management, such as the Welcome Operationcreated in 2018 to respond to the wave of migrants from Venezuela and considers at least government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL) an asset.
The commission argues that the initiative, now led by the Ministry of Defense, should return to the Civil House. “There is almost unanimity about the Acolhida Operation. It is necessary to recognize the work that the military did, but there is a lack of investment in the budget”, says Paim.
In the initial year of the operation, Acolhida had funds of R$ 265.3 million, according to data obtained by Sheet through the Freedom of Information Act. The apex of the budget was registered in 2020, with R$ 306.55 million. This year, it was BRL 294.15 million, and the 2023 Budget foresees that BRL 252.5 million will be allocated.
Migration and refugee experts describe the legacy of the Bolsonaro administration in the area as ambiguous. In the first week of government, the country withdrew from the UN Global Compact on Migration🇧🇷 From there, it was possible to project the dismantling of the area. But it was not like that.
“The area that was least scorched in terms of human rights in the Bolsonaro government is migration and refuge”, says Professor João Carlos Jarochinski, from the Master’s in Society and Borders at the Federal University of Roraima (UFRR). “You can’t be an international pariah in all areas, and this turned out to be an important asset in foreign policy and contact with the UN.”
The sector helped the outgoing president’s management in at least two areas: promoting the work of the military, who took over the leadership of the Acolhida Operation — General Eduardo Pazzuelo, before being Minister of Health, for example, held senior positions in operation— and in the politicization of discourse against figures considered enemies, in particular Nicolas Madurodictator of Venezuela.
Under Bolsonaro, in 2019, Brazil facilitated the process of granting asylum to Venezuelans by recognizing that there is a widespread violation of human rights in the Latin American countrysimilarly to what happens with the Syria from Bashar al-Assad🇧🇷 That year, the operation even used the slogan “Socialism excludes, Brazil welcomes”, in reference to the Maduro regime.
The commonplace politicization of the migration area makes workers in the sector fear that the resumption of relations with the neighboring country, one of the first measures announced by the future chancellor, Mauro Vieira, may weaken the work with Venezuelan refugees. The Brazilian government, after all, would have to continue to recognize, implicitly or explicitly, that the crisis in Venezuela has collapsed.
Aloysio Nunesformer chancellor in the Temer government, author of the Migration Law and member of the Foreign Relations working group of the future government, told Sheet that ties with the neighboring nation should never have been severed and that the resumption does not pose a risk to the reception of Venezuelans.
Paulo Paim follows the same line. “I believe in President Lula’s capacity for dialogue and in Itamaraty’s policy. We must defend humanitarian policies in relation to any country where human rights are violated”, says the senator.
Those involved in the issue also claim that the Bolsonaro government used the Covid pandemic as an excuse to impose a series of ordinances that curtailed the right of migrants to enter the country —according to a survey by the NGO Conectas Human Rights, there were at least 39.
Camila Asano, program director at Conectas, also says that it is up to the future Lula government to rethink the characteristics of the right to humanitarian visa granted to citizens of Afghanistan, dominated by the fundamentalist Taliban regimethat’s right Ukraine, at war with Russia since February.
The concession was celebrated by refuge specialists, but scenes like that of Afghans gathered at Guarulhos International Airport, in São Paulo, showed that granting a visa, by itself, does not guarantee that these people will access rights. “All this must be regulated, so that these people arrive in the country and do not have to face reception challenges”, says Asano.