UNHCR welcomes Brazilian residency for Angolan and Liberian refugees

News Stories, 9 November 2012

© UNHCR/G.Gutarra
A refugee band from Angola plays a concert in Brazil. The Angolans have assimilated well.

BRASILIA, Brazil, November 9 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday welcomed Brazil's recent decision to grant permanent residency to nearly 2,000 former Angolan and Liberian refugees. Brazil's Ministry of Justice issued a decree on October 26 confirming the new status for this group.

The measure was adopted by the Brazilian migration authorities following a global UNHCR recommendation in January this year, asking states to apply the cessation clauses on the two refugee situations and recommending countries of asylum to pursue local integration or an alternative status for former refugees.

Brazil is the first country in Latin America and outside of the Africa region to adopt UNHCR's recommendations. Brazilian government statistics suggest the decision will affect 1,681 Angolan and 271 Liberian refugees, representing almost 40 per cent of the refugee population in Brazil.

The country hosts around 4,600 recognized refugees, including the Angolan and Liberians. The main other refugee populations are from Colombia (700) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (497).

According to the decree, Angolan and Liberian refugees will have 90 days after being notified by the government to contact the police and request their permanent resident visa. Refugees must comply with at least one of four conditions: be living in Brazil as recognized refugees over the last four years; be hired by any private or public company registered with the Ministry of Labour; be a qualified worker with formally recognized expertise; or run his/her own legally established business. The possibility of acquiring permanent resident status will not apply to refugees convicted of any criminal offence.

Angolan and Liberian refugees are largely integrated into Brazilian society mostly in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Many are married to locals and have Brazilian children. UNHCR believes most of the Angolans and Liberians will meet the government's requirements to remain in Brazil.

Most Angolan and Liberian refugees living in Brazil arrived during the 1990's, fleeing internal civil conflicts. In Angola, conflict from 1961 to 2002 displaced more than 4 million nationals internally and forced another 600,000 into exile. In the case of Liberia, two civil conflicts (from 1989-1996 and from 1999-2003) created tens of thousands of refugees.

Most asylum-seekers originating from West and Central African countries reach Brazil by plane, with a small number from West Africa travelling by boat. Others, from the East and Horn of Africa, as well as from Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh normally fly to Dubai, via Panama, and then to Ecuador, before reaching Brazil.

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Forty Years On, Antonio Goes Home to Angola

Antonio has been waiting 40 years to return to his home village in northern Angola. He fled to Democratic Republic of the Congo when the country was a Portuguese colony, and stayed away through years of civil war and during the peace that followed in 2002. Now, no longer classed as a refugee, he is finally going back.

Seated in a rickety chair in his family's rented apartment in Kinshasa on the eve of his departure, the 66-year-old Angolan was excited. "I feel joy when I think that I will go home. It's better to be a citizen of your own country than a refugee in another country. It's liberation," he said, flanked by his wife, sister and granddaughter.

Photographer Brian Sokol followed the four of them as they began their journey in Kinshasa on August 19, taking a seven-hour train journey to the town of Kimpese in Bas-Congo province and then reaching the border by bus. They were among the first group to go back home with the help of UNHCR under a third and final voluntary repatriation programme since 2002. The family faces many new challenges in Angola, but their joy was far greater than any apprehension. "I will dance when we arrive at the border," said Antonio's sister, Maria. UNHCR is organizing the return of nearly 30,000 former refugees to Angola.

Forty Years On, Antonio Goes Home to Angola

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

Irina was born in 1998 in Switzerland, daughter of a Brazilian mother and her Swiss boyfriend. Soon afterwards, her mother Denise went to the Brazilian Consulate in Geneva to get a passport for Irina. She was shocked when consular officials told her that under a 1994 amendment to the constitution, children born overseas to Brazilians could not automatically gain citizenship. To make matters worse,the new-born child could not get the nationality of her father at birth either. Irina was issued with temporary travel documents and her mother was told she would need to sort out the problem in Brazil.

In the end, it took Denise two years to get her daughter a Brazilian birth certificate, and even then it was not regarded as proof of nationality by the authorities. Denise turned for help to a group called Brasileirinhos Apátridas (Stateless Young Brazilians), which was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to guarantee nationality for children born overseas with at least one Brazilian parent.

In 2007, Brazil's National Congress approved a constitutional amendment that dropped the requirement of residence in Brazil for receiving citizenship. In addition to benefitting Irina, the law helped an estimated 200,000 children, who would have otherwise been left stateless and without many of thebasic rights that citizens enjoy. Today, children born abroad to Brazilian parents receive Brazilian nationality provided that they are registered with the Brazilian authorities, or they take up residence in Brazil and opt for Brazilian nationality.

"As a mother it was impossible to accept that my daughter wasn't considered Brazilian like me and her older brother, who was also born in Switzerland before the 1994 constitutional change," said Denise. "For me, the fact that my daughter would depend on a tourist visa to live in Brazil was an aberration."

Irina shares her mother's discomfort. "It's quite annoying when you feel you belong to a country and your parents only speak to you in that country's language, but you can't be recognized as a citizen of that country. It feels like they are stealing your childhood," the 12-year-old said.

Statelessness among Brazilian Expats

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.