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Brazil Opens Arms Wider to Syrian Refugees than Many EU Nations

By: Franco Bastida - @iamtheFES - Sep 7, 2015, 2:59 pm
The image of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian child who drowned and washed ashore near a Turkish resort, has ignited debate over what should be done for Syrian refugees.
The image of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian child who drowned and washed ashore near a Turkish resort, has ignited debate over what should be done for Syrian refugees. (MySinchew)

Brazil has resettled more Syrian refugees than many European Union nations since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011, according to a recent BBC report.

Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) estimates that 2,077 Syrian refugees have received asylum in the country since 2011, surpassing Greece (1,275), Spain (1,335), Italy (1,005), and Portugal (15).

Germany (67,075) and Sweden (39,325) lead the way in accepting Syrian refugees in Europe, followed by Belgium (5,430), France (4,975), the United Kingdom (4,035), and Norway (2,995).

In the Americas, Brazil is second only to Canada (2,374), followed by the United States (1,243), Chile (1,220), Argentina (233), and Uruguay (117).

BBC Brazil reports that refugees spend close to US$2,600 per person for a trip to Europe by boat, and a single vessel can earn close to $260,000 in one trip.

Nevertheless, the journey is a dangerous one, as evidenced recently with the tragic death of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi.

Kurdi’s family, natives of the Syrian town of Kobani, near the Turkish border, were attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos when their boat capsized.

Out of the 23 people that traveled on the boat, 12 drowned, including Aylan’s 5-year-old brother and his mother Rihan. Only his father, Abdullah, survived. The family had hoped to reach Canada, where their relative, Tima Kurdi, migrated more than 20 years ago.

According to Mercy Corps, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced since 2011, and roughly 4 million have fled the country.

CONARE Facilitates Visa Process

In 2013, CONARE authorized the automatic issuing of humanitarian visas for Syrians and citizens of other nationalities affected by the Syrian Civil War.

The amendment facilitates the asylum-application process for refugees, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees officer Andrés Ramirez, since refugees can work and have access to education and health-care services while they await the resolution of their cases, unlike other countries.

“Brazil has maintained an open-door policy for Syrian refugees. The number is still low, in part due to the geographic location. It is without a doubt an example other countries should follow at the international level,” Ramirez said

In 2014, Brazilian embassies located in Beirut, Lebanon, Amman, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey, processed the greatest amount of asylum requests, and applications have quadrupled since 2011, according to the UNHCR. The agency also estimates that another 4,000 Syrians have entered the country “using alternate means.

As part of Brazil’s Ministry of Justice, CONARE will vote on September 21 to renew the current policies governing humanitarian visas for Syrians.

National Secretary of Justice Beto Vasconcelos told local newspaper Folha de São Paulo that Brazil should not avoid providing aid in any way the nation can. “Because the conflict persists, the government will consider renewing this policy and ensure the fulfillment of international commitments,” Vasconcelos said.

According to Ramirez, the Brazilian government needs to improve CONARE in order to face new challenges, given the increase in the number of applicants. “Another challenge will be to integrate those refugees to Brazilian society, both into the economy and into the culture,” he said.

Franco Bastida Franco Bastida

Franco Bastida is a Mexican journalist and musician based in Washington, DC, and a former PanAm Post intern. He is the Center for International Policy's Latin America Rights and Security Fellow. Follow him @iamtheFES.