In the midst of gaps, actions by immigrants and refugees against the pandemic gain prominence

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Entrega de doações de cestas básicas e kits de higiene em São Paulo pela África do Coração, ONG formada por imigrantes e refugiados
Entrega de doações de cestas básicas e kits de higiene em São Paulo pela África do Coração, ONG formada por imigrantes e refugiados. (Foto: Divulgação/África do Coração)

Inclusion of immigrants in the discussions and execution of actions is pointed out as one of the ways to respond not only to Covid-19, but also to other demands

Written by Rodrigo Borges Delfim
Translated by Natália Valverde Jatobá
Read here the Portuguese version
Read here the Spanish version

Whether in collective or individual acts, the actions led by immigrants and refugees in São Paulo in response to the coronavirus pandemic have stood out.

Thus, such mobilizations show their strength and value, while at the same time highlighting the social and political gaps in the care and forms of social participation of this population.

The inclusion of immigrants in the discussions and execution of these responses, inclusive, is pointed out as a way out not only to deal with the Covid-19 issue, but also for other diverse demands.

From monthly provision to campaigns

One of these great examples occurred last Sunday (3), promoted by the NGO África do Coração in the Santana neighborhood, north zone of São Paulo. Founded and composed of immigrants and refugees, the entity promoted a social action with 360 families from 17 different nationalities, who live in an occupation in the region, with the support of the Red Cross and the Parabéns Project.

In addition to the distribution of monthly provision and hygiene kits, the group helped immigrants with their emergency aid applications and gave tips on preventing coronavirus.

“An ant’s work takes a long time, but it makes a difference,” said Jean Katumba, president of the NGO Africa do Coração, via Facebook, as he spoke about the action and thanked the support received.

Another social action had already been led by Africa do Coração, on April 11th, in the distribution of monthly provision and hygiene kits near the NGO’s headquarters in downtown São Paulo.

The NGO, together with representatives in other Brazilian cities, also runs the campaign “SOS Solidariedade para refugiados e imigrantes”, which aims to raise awareness in brazilian society of the vulnerable situation that a large part of this population lives in the midst of the pandemic.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=saved&v=1142376219455862

In addition to this, África do Coração has also pulled another recent campaign, making the migrant population aware of the need to maintain social isolation as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Various campaigns

Fortunately, the actions of África do Coração and the partnerships it manages to articulate are not isolated examples, despite the difficulties experienced by immigrants in general.

The bolivian community, the largest among immigrants in São Paulo, has also promoted actions and articulated partnerships to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Through the Bolivia Solidaria campaign, hundreds of monthly provision have been distributed to families in vulnerable social conditions. The campaign is conducted by independent volunteers or members of a number of associations and collectives from the bolivian community (see the complete list here).

Within the bolivian community there is yet another action, “Voluntários por Amor”, which also collects and distributes monthly provision and provides prevention information to Covid-19, the name of the new coronavirus.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=571698356809858

The account also includes various fundraising campaigns, promoted by immigrant collectives, to be reverted to the families most affected by the pandemic. And also individual actions, such as the deliveries of foods promoted by Syrian couple Talal Al-Tinawi and Ghazal Baranbo, and also Syrian Razan Suliman.

Crossing borders

Since mid-March, when social isolation measures to curb Covid-19 were increased, at least 50 actions – especially in the state of São Paulo – have been led or had active participation by immigrants.

These data are contained in the platform COVID-19 and “Solidariedade Migrante” (access here), maintained collaboratively by the International Forum Fontié ki Kwaze – Fronteiras Cruzadas, a social-technical work network based at USP, and by the Chair Sérgio Vieira de Mello of Unicamp (University of Campinas).

“The initial mapping shows the great potential of the autonomous organization of the population, with emphasis on the organizations of the migrants themselves such as África do Coração, the União Social dos Imigrantes Haitianos and Centro da Mulher Imigrante e Refugiada (CEMIR). And networking with human rights organizations and entities such as trade unions, churches and universities, which has a fundamental role,” explains migration lawyer Karina Quintanilha, PhD candidate in sociology at Unicamp and curator of the forum.

The idea of the platform is to extend this collection and registration of information to activities that occur in other regions of Brazil and abroad. There are already mentions, for example, of mobilizations in Portugal and Mexico.

“It is good to remember that it is a collaborative platform, very simple, which allows anyone to include new actions, and aims to give visibility and expand the connections between networks of solidarity, including at the international level,” says Karina.

Urgent and necessary articulation

While showing the capacity of organization of this population, such actions leave even more exposed the gaps left by public power in the social area. And they also highlight the need for better articulation between civil society institutions.

“We are in a moment that takes everyone by surprise. And there is a lack of dialogue, articulation and openness of public power to discuss these proposals [in response to Covid-19],” says Fabio Andó Filho, coordinator of the Canicas Project, which works to support the migrant population.

The confusion of information regarding the granting of emergency assistance, especially in relation to undocumented immigrants and people on the street, according to Fabio, were clear examples of this lack of articulation – whether at the municipal, state or federal level.

“In the crisis it is evident that these sectors are not dialoguing,” he adds.

The lack of articulation between public power and civil society is also pointed out by the peruvian social worker Soledad Requena, coordinator of the Centro da Mulher Imigrante e Refugiada (CEMIR).

“Without articulation, we have no way of knowing whether or not we are duplicating efforts. We need to dialogue and coordinate actions, especially in this moment of pandemic”.

More power and weight to immigrants

One way out to help close these gaps in the midst of policies concerning the migrant population would be to include itself in the processes of discussion and implementation of such measures.

“It is important to have interlocutors in each migrant community, so that the information reaches them more directly. And also to include immigrant leaders in the discussions”, points out Soledad. Such people, she says, are not only in formal institutions, but also in cultural collectives, soccer teams and churches.

In addition to supporting local immigrant leaders, Fabio suggests a greater weight in public administration for institutional spaces that already exist in the São Paulo capital, such as the Conselho Municipal de Imigrantes (CMI).

“I think it has to strengthen, give more power to this type of space,” exemplifies the coordinator of Canicas.

In operation since October 2017, the Council is foreseen in the Municipal Policy for the Immigrant Population of São Paulo. And it aims to be a space for dialogue and representation of migrant communities and associations linked to the issue in public management in São Paulo.

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