Refugees, immigration and asylum were the focus of discussions at the 2nd Amazon Legal Symposium, sponsored by the Centro Universitario do Norte (UniNorte). "Environmental refugees", as Haitians are being called in Brazil, was a central theme in conversation.
Isabela Mazão, the Assistant High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), explained how the organization has worked in Brazil to respond to issues raised by Haitians in Amazonas. Isabela said it was important to discuss the term refugee so people understand it also refers to victims of natural disasters, as in the case of Haitians, and drew attention to the solution proposed by Brazil to consider them not as refugees but as "permanent residents on humanitarian grounds."
With the theme "Public International Law and the Legal Framework of International Protection of Refugees", the symposium was also attended by Dr. Julia Gragera Pulido, of Universidad Europea de Madrid (UEM), a specialist in International Relations, Intelligence Services, Organized Crime and International Security; Sylvia Sander, assistant High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations; Dr. Helso do Carmo Ribeiro Filho, a lawyer and professor at UniNorte; and Dr. Marcio Rys Meirelles de Miranda, Secretary of State for Justice and Human Rights in Amazonas.
During the event, Sebastian Roa, a refugee from Colombia who has lived in Amazonas since 2007 and a student of Social Communication at UniNorte, spoke about the difficulties in settling in a new country. The biggest obstacle was the language, which hinders interpersonal relationships. He said he also suffered a lot of prejudice for being a refugee. "Many people think you're a fugitive from the police," he noted.
He said that after learning Portuguese he was able to adapt better to his new country. "Most foreigners keep their status hidden because of prejudice against refugees. I attended a congress representing the Amazonas in Rio Janeiro and Brasilia, and was the only Colombian. I was not well received," he said. He pointed out that anyone can become a refugee. "Nobody knows what can happen in your country. For me, Colombia is in a state of 'war' that will not end today or tomorrow."
The Amazonas received 50 applications for asylum in 2012; the majority are Colombians who come across through the border cities of Leticia and Tabatinga. This compares to 118 requests in 2011, according to information from the Caritas Archdiocese of Manaus and contained in the report from the National Council for Refugees (CONARE).
According to Conare, through December 2011 there were a total of 4,477 refugees in Brazil, 4,053 were recognized by traditional routes of eligibility and 424 recognized by the Resettlement Program.
Most refugees in Brazil come from Africa (63.79%), the Americas (23.08%), Asia (10.85%), Europe (2.17%) and stateless (0.11%). There are 77 nationalities present in this universe of refugees. The country with the largest representation is Angola (37.66%), followed by Colombia (14.61%), Democratic Republic of Congo (10.50%), Liberia (5.76%) and Iraq (4.62%). The majority of refugees live in the state of São Paulo, followed by Rio de Janeiro.
According to the Global Trends Report of the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR), 2011 registered a record number of forced displacements across international borders, and more people have become refugees since 2000. Worldwide, 42.5 million people ended the year 2011 in a refugee situation, either as refugees (15.42 million), internally displaced persons (26.4 million) and asylum seekers (895,000).
This article was originally written in Portuguese and has been translated into English to be shared on the Laureate International Universities website.