The Brazilian government granted refugee status on Thursday to 21,432 Venezuelans who entered Brazil fleeing the economic, political and social crisis in their country, in a massive and unprecedented decision that opens a precedent for similar cases in the future, official sources said.
The number of Venezuelans regularized as refugees in just one day nearly doubles the 11,231 refugee concessions to citizens of all countries offered by Brazil between 1997 and 2018, a spokesperson for the National Committee for Refugees (Conare) told Efe.
“It is a historical landmark in terms of migratory regularization, a watershed that opens precedents to facilitate similar processes in the future,” said the spokesman for Conare, an inter-ministerial body coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and Social Security and responsible for granting this status to refugees.
The massive granting of refugee status was made official in a ceremony at the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice in Brasilia, which was attended by representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who praised the initiative.
According to Conare, the decision was made possible by a June decree by which the Government of Brazil classified Venezuela as a country in a situation of “serious and widespread violation of human rights,” which facilitates the granting of refugee status to migrants claiming such status.
“Conare uses the criterion of subjective persecution after taking for granted that in Venezuela there is a massive, serious and generalized violation of human rights,” according to the general coordinator of the Conare, Bernardo Laferté.
Brazil thus grants refugee status, which allows them to regularize their situation in the country under special conditions, people who have fled their nation of origin for “well-founded fears of persecution” because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
The massive regularization was also possible, according to the spokesman consulted by EFE, thanks to intelligence and computer tools that allow to cross data from different requests, group similar cases and establish a flow for joint judgement.
According to Conare data, the number of Venezuelan refugee petitions in Brazil jumped 245% last year, from 17,685 in 2017 to 61,681 in 2018, a figure already surpassed this year even though official data are not yet available.
The increase in requests led Venezuelans to represent 52% of the historic total of foreigners who have sought refuge with the Brazilian government, in addition to 77% of those who did so in 2018.
81% of Venezuelans’ requests for refuge last year were presented in Roraima, an Amazonian State that has the only border crossing between the two countries and where the majority of Venezuelan citizens who enter Brazil fleeing the humanitarian crisis in their country have concentrated.
The number of Venezuelans admitted as refugees does not include the thousands of citizens of the neighboring country who apply for residence in Brazil instead of the refuge, a tool provided for in Mercosur agreements with the Andean nations and which also allows foreigners to regularize their situation.
According to the Ministry of Justice, until last April at least 75,220 Venezuelans had permanent residency in the country.
The massive granting of refugee status to Venezuelans coincided with the release of a report in which the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced that at least 529 Venezuelan children and adolescents entered Brazil without the company of an adult in the last six months, and therefore lacked protection from the State in the country.
These minors, mostly between the ages of 13 and 17, do not have access to education or health care in Brazil because they do not have an adult or legal guardian to represent them, and end up living on the streets, where they are exposed to violence or recruitment by criminal groups, according to HRW.