Refugees and CONARE
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for the international assistance provided to refugees and, under certain conditions, internally displaced and stateless persons. In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the existence of nearly 20 million refugees worldwide – which demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge to be overcome.
Brazil is a Party to the International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, and to its 1967 Protocol – in addition to integrating the UNHCR Executive Committee since 1958. According to these treaties, an individual may request refugee status in Brazil if he or she has well-founded fears of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social group membership or political opinion; is outside of his or her country of nationality (or, in the case of the stateless, their country of habitual residence) and unable or, due to such fear, unwilling to return to it.
The Brazilian policy for refugees has advanced significantly in the last two decades, particularly since the enactment of the Refugee Act (Law No. 9,474, July 22, 1997). The law established the rules applicable to refugees and asylum seekers in Brazil and created the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) – which is responsible for reviewing applications and granting approval of refugee status in the first instance. In addition, it guides and coordinates the actions necessary for effective protection, assistance and legal support for refugees. The Brazilian legal framework on the field is recognized as one of the most advanced, having served as a model for countries in the region.
CONARE is presided over by the Ministry of Justice, and is comprised of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which holds the Vice-Presidency), the Ministries of Health, Education, Labor and Employment, the Federal Police, and by non-governmental organizations dedicated to activities of assistance. The NGOs include: the Institute of Migration and Human Rights (IMDH) and the Caritas Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. UNHCR also participates in the meetings, but without right to vote.
Brazil is currently home to over 8,800 refugees from 79 different nationalities, of which the five largest communities originate, in descending order, from Syria, Angola, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Palestine. The Brazilian law is more comprehensive than the 1951 Convention, since it also provides for the granting of refugee status in cases of serious and widespread human rights violations. A significant portion of those who seek refuge in Brazil come from countries victimized by conflicts or internal turmoil.
Since 1999, the Brazilian Government conducts, in partnership with UNHCR and with civil society organizations, refugee resettlement programs. The program involves the selection and transfer to Brazil of individuals who, due to the refusal to offer protection by other receiving countries, or the impossibility of local integration, need to be resettled in third countries, as they cannot be repatriated to their countries of origin.
In 2004, UNHCR reopened its representative office in Brasilia, reciprocating the dedication of the Brazilian Government to reaffirm its commitment to the cause. The high degree of institutionalization reached in Brazil with the creation of CONARE highlights the advances promoted by the Government in this area, in partnership with the Brazilian civil society.
Brazil has established procedures facilitating the granting of visas to individuals that have been affected by the conflict in Syria and that intend to seek refuge in Brazilian territory – an initiative recognized by UNHCR. As a result of the program which facilitates, for humanitarian reasons, the granting of visas to people affected by the conflict in Syria, the Brazilian Government has already provided refuge to more than 2,200 Syrian citizens. The Brazilian legislation extends to refugees the right to work, education, health, mobility within national territory, among others, thus allowing them to rebuild their lives in the country.