UN refugee agency welcomes Brazil announcement of humanitarian visas for Syrians

News Stories, 27 September 2013

© UNHCR/K.Fusaro
Brazil is the first country in the Americas region to offer humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees. An estimated 3 million Brazilians have Syrian ancestry, including members of this group in Sao Paulo.

GENEVA, September 27 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday welcomed this week's announcement by Brazil's National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) of special humanitarian visas for Syrians and other nationals affected by the Syrian conflict and who wish to seek refuge in Brazil.

"The decision will help expedite entry to Brazil and the resolution providing this special procedure is valid for two years," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva, while welcoming the development.

According to the announcement, Brazil's embassies in countries neighbouring Syria will be responsible for issuing travel visas for people wanting to go there. Claims for asylum will need to be presented on arrival in Brazil. These special humanitarian visas will also be provided to family members living in countries neighbouring Syria.

Brazil is the first country in the Americas region to adopt such an approach towards Syrian refugees. An estimated 3 million Brazilians have Syrian ancestry, mainly from a wave of immigration that occurred at around the start of the 20th Century.

So far the number of refugees from the Syria crisis in Brazil has been small, with around 280 individuals having been recognized by CONARE. There are no pending asylum claims and Brazil has approved 100 per cent of the claims that have been presented.

However, according to the Ministry of Justice, the number has been gradually increasing. The procedure announced by the Brazilian government is consistent with the provisions made by the country's refugee law.

Currently some 3,000 asylum-seekers and some 4,300 refugees are living in Brazil. Most are from Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

UNHCR has called on states to provide for humanitarian admissions of up to 10,000 refugees from Syria this year. Humanitarian admission is an expedited process that can provide an immediate solution for those in greatest need while a resettlement programme is in its initial stages of implementation. It also allows for additional places outside of states' annual resettlement quotas.

To date, Germany has offered 5,000 places for the humanitarian admission of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, and Austria has offered 500. A number of other countries have come forward with offers of resettlement places. These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. As of 10 September these countries had pledged more than 1,650 resettlement places, 960 of which are for 2013. The United States has indicated that it is willing to consider an additional unspecified number of cases.

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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

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

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