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By Luisa Pascoareli
(WNN) São Paulo, BRAZIL: Known throughout the world as a ‘welcoming’ country, Brazil in the last decade has opened its doors to more than 286,000 immigrants. They have come from a diverse group of global regions, all for different reasons, coming from the United States, Japan, Paraguay, Portugal and Bolivia, according to IBGE – Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But when it comes to Latin American migrants lives, some refugees experiences are often filled with exclusion and hardship.
In a meeting in the city of São Paulo, Brazil held by Adus, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that “aims to seek new alternatives related to the integration of resident refugees,” the ongoing problems for refugees entering the region is process that includes discrimination. Helping refugees find dignity with a way out of poverty and a sustainable career is a challenge, in spite of the Brazilian Refugee Act Bill in 1997, an act of legislation that hoped to bring ‘integration’ in Brazil, but met with continued limitations to migrants that have come to Brazil from Latin America.
Rosa* is a Colombian migrant woman who came to Brazil three months ago seeking refugee status. Since her displacement in Colombia, where decades of fear and rural paramilitary conflict has caused ongoing destabilization, Rosa became part of the tide of migrants displaced by circumstances beyond her control. Since arriving in Brazil she has been looking for a job in Brazil to help support her family. But her efforts have not brought her luck to find what she needs.
“Female labour migrants are frequently confined to low-skilled jobs in domestic and care work, hotel and catering services, the entertainment and sex industry, agriculture and assembly lines,” says the OSCE – Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in a October 2010 International Organization for Migration report. “This includes many skilled or highly skilled women who face downgrading and deskilling in the country of destination,” continued the OSCE.
Through a one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network in São Paulo, Rosa shared her opinion that Brazil is “not as friendly” as she first thought. With a certificate in Culinary Arts and Gastronomy and experience as a food chef in Colombia, Rosa has had no luck finding a job despite São Paulo’s busy restaurant industry as the capital city in the richest state in Brazil.
“I took a step back and tried a [job] vacancy as a kitchen helper, but even with this I am not getting a chance,” outlined Rosa. “The employers here ask for experience in[side] Brazil and I don´t have it, despite having it in my own country,” she continued.
There are challenges in a new country for women migrants. Not knowing the native Portuguese language in Brazil is one of them. It can be one of the biggest problems for Colombian women who are trying to get refugee status. The other problem for women from Colombia is their gender.
While male migrants from Colombia may find jobs once they become documented, like Ricardo*, a former policeman from Colombia who’s love of wine helped get him a solid job in the hospitality industry in Brazil, women are often excluded from job opportunities that are higher paying under discrimination.
For Alexandra Aparicio, Latin American Manager at Refugees United, an institution that helps to search for refugees around the world who have lost touch with their families, women migrants face a distinct problem in the labor market today in Brazil. The prejudice for Colombian women migrants is pernicious and twofold.
“The refugee woman is a survivor,” says Aparicio. “She has a huge desire to integrate into a new country so she can take care of her family.”
“We have to see if they are in condition to look for work, and this can hold back the search,” says Cristina Morelli, Coordinator at Cáritas São Paulo, a Catholic organization in São Paulo, that is part of the larger organization Cáritas Internationalis, which has current outreach programs in 200 different countries in the seven global regions.
Cáritas is one of six civil organizations that has partnered closely with UNHCR – United Nations Refugee Agency in Brazil. One program called CEAT, translated literally to mean ‘Worker’s Job Centers’, helps refugees look for work. But for Marcelo Haydu, Executive Director of Adus, this is not enough for refugees who are “competing with Brazilians” for jobs.
“That´s why we go personally to the companies to explain the refugees´ situation,” said Haydu. “For women it can be harder as many come from countries where they are not allowed to work…,” he added.
Recently launching a 2012 database that highlights the work experience and resumes of numerous migrants who have received refugee status in Brazil, the UNHCR in São Paulo along with local partners, are hoping that this database will be used by companies around Brazil. Some refugees have already been offered work, but the program may not be helping migrants who are waiting to get refugee status.
Luis Fernando Godinho, spokesperson for UNCHR Brazil, believes there is a huge lack of information in the labour market about refugees in Brazil. Discrimination against migrants is common. “The word ‘refugee’ to the Portuguese [in Brazil] means ‘unhappy’,” outlined Godinho.
Employment is just one of the many issues that 4,477 refugees, 25 percent of them women living today in Brazil, face.
Research by Cáritas in São Paulo shows that lack of permanent housing, good health, or knowledge of Brazil’s native language are some of the main obstacles facing many African and Latin American migrant women entering the region. They also often suffer under discrimination, based on lack of steady past employment and education.
Some migrants who arrive with little-to-no money may also face homelessness after they enter Brazil. One transit home in downtown São Paulo that is open to women migrants, but is not publicly considered a woman’s ‘shelter’, is Casa do Migrante.
Life and entry into Brazilian society from a migrant transit home is not easy, especially for Latin American and African women. Without gaining ‘official’ refugee status many women may stay paperless as they are unable to get the documentation papers they need to find a job, rent a home or enter professional life.
While Rosa was living at Casa do Migrante with her extended family, along with 110 other migrants living in the facility, journalist Luisa Pascoareli from WNN had a chance to speak with her:
“First of all, we can only stay for three months, after that we are expelled,” said Rosa. “We can stay only for sleep, so we need to get out at seven am and come back at six pm,” she added. “During this time we have to walk around the city with no money to eat,” she added. “Incredibly, the shower period is at the same time breakfast and dinner are served. That´s why many people lose a meal. My nephews [have] gone to school without a bath several times,” continued Rosa.
But another much more serious problem may exist at the facility. Since being there Rosa says she noticed, “food that we threw to the garbage, came back for us to eat.”
“That is not how to treat a human being!” added Rosa.
Cáritas São Paulo says the majority of refugees coming into São Paulo range between the ages of 25 to 40-years-old. 20 percent of them have had experience working before in technical services, 18 percent as laborers and 15 percent in the service sector. Many of them have received little to no education. Only 23 percent have ever finished school, with only 10 percent saying they have had some university education.
“Along with Sudan and Iraq, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world—roughly 10 percent of the total population by most estimates. Cumulative estimates of the size of Colombia’s displaced population range from approximately 3.9 million people registered by the government since 1997, to almost 5.5 million people reported by a prominent Colombian NGO since 1985,” says Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to defending human rights, in their recent report “Rights Out of Reach: Obstacles to Health, Justice, and Protection for Displaced Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Colombia.”
The statistics for Colombian displaced migrants also point to indicators showing vast and ongoing poverty.
“The Monitoring Committee found in 2010 that only 11 percent of displaced persons with employment earned the monthly minimum wage set by the government, and almost 60 percent received less than half of that amount, jumping to 68 percent for internally displaced women. Displaced individuals are also more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line as the general population,” continued Human Rights Watch.
Getting refugee status for Colombian migrants coming from regions outside Brazil, including neighboring Ecuador, is not an easy process. Approvals for refugee documentation is decided by the UNHCR and Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), along with the Brazil chapter of Cáritas Internationalis. Because of the time it takes, the process for a woman migrant from Colombia entering Brazil may be long and frustrating.
“By September 2011, there were 4,440 recognized refugees in Brazil. Of that number, 427 had arrived in Brazil through resettlement, mostly Colombian refugees from Ecuador in the framework of the Regional Solidarity Resettlement Programme. Colombians, Congolese and Angolans make up the largest refugee caseload in Brazil,” said the UNHCR in a formal report to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in May 2012.
“The national migration law is outdated and restrictive, which at times results in migrants using the asylum process in an attempt to legalize their stay in Brazil,” the UNHCR continued.
“The bill of the new immigration law has not been voted on yet. The text of the bill has important advances, for example, the National Immigration Council would have the competence of granting visas under humanitarian grounds. This means there would be
a complementary protection mechanism independent from the National Refugee Committee,” added the UNHCR.
In 2010 the Brazilian government stepped-up financial assistance to the United Nations with $3.2 million in aid in to assist refugees coming into Brazil. A portion of the program has worked with Colombian migrants coming from Ecuador into Brazil.
Today the current documentation status for Rosa is unknown. Since she has left Casa do Migrante WNN has lost contact with her. But other migrant women in the temporary rooms in Casa do Migrante say she is still somewhere in the city of São Paulo.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
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