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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Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

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The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

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