UNHCR report highlights Venezuela’s international limbo regarding refuge

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Abrigo Rondon 1, em Boa Vista, um dos locais criados para receber venezuelanos no Brasil. (Foto: Marcelo Camargo - 21.ago.2018/Agência Brasil)

The Global Trends Report cites that there are 79.5 million forced displaced people in the world, 26 million of them refugees. Brazil is cited prominently, but is also the target of collections

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

Despite calls from the United Nations (UN) and one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, the situation in Venezuela is far from a global consensus on shelter. And this limbo is clear in the latest edition of the report Global Trends, published annually by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and released this Thursday (18).

According to the study, which gives an overview of forced displacement in the world, 79.5 million people were in such a situation at the end of 2019. Of those, 26 million are considered refugees – because they moved to another country in search of protection.

These 26 million, however, do not include some 3.6 million Venezuelans that the UNHCR accounts for in its overall total of forced displacement. They appear in a separate category called “globally displaced Venezuelans”. The report also includes 93,300 Venezuelans as recognized refugees and 794,500 as refuge seekers.

“There is a divergence among the countries that most welcome Venezuelans for refugee status or not. That’s why the UNHCR thought it prudent to create a specific category,” explains Miguel Pachioni, spokesman for the UN agency in Sao Paulo, about the South American country’s classification in the report.

Even in a separate ranking in the report, Venezuelans represent the second largest forced displacement population in the world (3.7 million), behind Syria alone (6.6 million).

Cartagena or Geneva?

In May 2019, however, the UN released a statement in which it recommended the international community to recognize Venezuelans as refugees. This is an appeal that still meets with strong resistance, as the current UNHCR report shows.

The agency pointed out at the time that, for certain profiles of Venezuelans at risk, the 1951 Convention on Refugees is applicable. However, it pointed out that the majority of this displaced population would need international protection based on broader criteria such as those established by the Cartagena Declaration (1984).

The Brazilian refugee legislation – Law 9.474/97 – follows the understanding of the Cartagena Declaration and provides for the attribution of refugee status to any person fleeing from a country in a situation of serious and widespread human rights violation. However, a large part of the international community has not yet accepted this broader definition of refugee.

“Venezuelans are a clear case of how thin this division between refuge and migration is. In Brazil it’s very clear that Venezuelans should be considered refugees, but in the world there is no consensus on this situation”, says researcher Patrícia Nabuco Martuscelli, who holds a doctorate in political science from USP and specializes in migration and refuge issues.

The researcher also considers that this lack of consensus does not occur only with Venezuelans. “In Switzerland, for example, the Syrians are not recognized as refugees”.

The UNHCR report also cites complementary forms of protection for Venezuelans that have been adopted by different countries – including Brazil – such as temporary residence and other forms of migration regularization.

Brazil on the global map of the refuge

Among other highlights, Global Trends places Brazil as one of the protagonist countries in the issue of refuge and cites the block recognition of Venezuelans as a good practice.

Venezuelans represent 88 percent of the 43,000 refugees recognized by the Brazilian government, according to data released on 8 June by the National Committee for Refugees (Conare). This data was leveraged by opinions from the collegiate that recognized, at one time, the requests of about 38,000 Venezuelans between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.

These data made Brazil, for the second year in a row, the sixth country to receive the most requests for refuge in the world (82,500) and the third in the Americas – behind only the United States and Peru.

Requests for refuge pending

The report also quotes that there are at least 363,600 people in the country “in the field of interest” of the UNHCR. This number includes at least 207,000 requests for refuge still pending with the government at the end of 2019.

“Brazil is one of the countries of prominence in relation to this population and remains an important player, a milestone for the region and for the world. But it’s not enough to recognize just one country, you can’t forget the other nationalities”, Pachioni ponders. It is estimated that people from at least 80 countries are represented in the requests for refuge still pending in Brazil.

“Obviously, there is a recognition of the good practice of securing refuge for Venezuelans. At least at this point (Brazil) is doing the minimum. But we have this gap in our refuge process,” Martuscelli adds.

In addition to the block recognitions, Conare also decided last February to cancel the refuge applications of those who already have obtained residence permits in the country based on the Migration Law.

The measure was seen by some researchers as a way to speed up the processing of applications. But it has also been strongly criticized by other experts for representing a weakening of the refuge as an element of international protection.

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