A Brazilian take on the European Refugee Crisis
by Carlijn van Alphen (January 19, 2017)
In contrary: 2016 has been a year in which more refugees have been displaced and more people have died at sea than ever previously recorded (IOM & Frontex). The U.N. refugee agency’s Global Trends has announced the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide to be as large as 65.3 million, with the majority being displaced inside their own countries and refugees often finding shelter in neighboring countries.
Currently, wealthier states do not share responsibility with regard to the international commitment to ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all people, as described in the principle of non-refoulement stated in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is evident that something has to change in the international mindset to bring an end to the enduring human rights violations concerning millions of people. Surprisingly, a potential wind of change has come from Brazil, a country facing a deep economic and political crisis. In June 2016 the former Justice Minister Eugênio Aragão expressed that, depending on financial international assistance, “it would be possible for Brazil to take up to 100,000 Syrians, in groups of 20,000 per year”.
Brazil is one of the biggest recipients of refugees in Latin America. In 2013 they introduced a humanitarian visa program for Syrians, processing 8.450 humanitarian visas on basis of which more than 2.000 Syrian refugees have already settled in Brazil (UNHCR). Brazil has several reasons to pursue a recipient immigration policy. Receiving immigrants from all over the world helps to boost the country's international reputation and to turn around its negative image regarding a high crime rate and an even higher external debt. Immigrants in Brazil also seem to be perceived as less as a (financial) burden than in many European countries. The country is in need of skilled workers and sees immigrants as a possibility to expand economic growth and boost innovation. Moreover, there is an important difference between Europe and Latin America from a historical point of view: America is a so-called “continent of immigrants”. Brazil is racially and ethnically very diverse, with a mixed population descending from Europeans, Western and Central-Western Africans, Amerindians, Levantines and East Asian.
Brazil's proposal to take in a considerable number of Syrian refugees could, if followed up by the international community, provide safer ground and an improvement in situation for thousands of people. Despite its financial and political problems, Brazil was the only country to score an “A” in all categories of the World Refugee Survey (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, 2013) and has, in the Southern Cone, the highest percentage of refugees (85%) remaining in the country (UNHCR, 2015). In general immigrants tend to integrate quickly in Brazilian society and many originally foreign traditions are now deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture. International support of refugees in Brazil also seems to be a sensible choice from a financial point of view. Paying for a refugee to settle in a middle-income country like Brazil will be a lot cheaper than having to support them in expensive countries in Europe. Besides, international funds will be used for facilitating integration through e.g. expansion of affordable housing and infrastructure investments, which will simultaneously benefit the lives of locals and create employment opportunities in Brazil.
Moreover, a successful integration of a large number of refugees in Brazil could serve as an example for the rest of the world. It could lead to a positive change in attitudes towards refugees in Europe and possibly be stepping stone for a more humanitarian international approach to the refugee crisis. Although the total amount of refugees worldwide is higher than it has ever been before, the number is far from unmanageable with just the right political willpower and international cooperation.
Carlijn van Alphen is Junior Policy Analyst at Bridging Europe
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