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WITHOUT PUBLIC POLICIES OR EMERGENCY AID, REFUGEES RELY ON EMERGENCY SUPPORT FROM CESE

Usually excluded from social protection systems and denied their fundamental rights, immigrants and refugees live with xenophobia and now face new challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic.  In an interview with CESE, Roque Renato Pattussi and Carla Aguilar, from the Migrant Support Centre and Pastoral (Centro de Apoio e Pastoral do Migrante: CAMI), describe the effects of the pandemic on immigrants and refugees.

The pandemic carries within it the scars of inequality and, as it progresses in Brazil, is leaving more and more populations in a more vulnerable position.  Among the groups most susceptible to the effects of the new coronavirus are refugees and immigrants who have left their places of origin and fled from economic and political crises, environmental disasters, wars and persecution.

According to the National Committee for Refugees (Comitê Nacional para os Refugiados: CONARE), Brazil has about 1.2 million international immigrants, 43 thousand people recognized as refugees and 193 thousand requests for refuge.  The city of São Paulo has the highest number of cases, with 360 thousand people from more than 150 nationalities.

Usually excluded from social protection systems and denied their fundamental rights, immigrants and refugees live with xenophobia and now face new challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is reported by representatives of CAMI, an organization that, for more than ten years, has worked to serve and promote the human rights of the immigrant community.  According to CAMI, estimates suggest the existence of 400 thousand poor and vulnerable immigrants, the majority Haitian and African, who arrive as refugees and mostly live in informal settlements in São Paulo, where CAMI works.

In conversation with the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE), Roque Renato Pattussi, CAMI Coordinator, and Carla Aguilar, the organization’s social worker, describe the effects of the pandemic on immigrants and refugees and the importance of CESE’s support at the beginning of the epidemic crisis.

Beyond the critical circumstances faced by Brazilians vulnerable to COVID-19, these populations experience cultural differences, language barriers, racism and discrimination.  Roque Pattussi outlines how the pandemic has brought to light previously hidden problems that affect immigrants and refugees, and cites expressions commonly aimed at them: “Chinese and Venezuelan immigrants brought COVID-19, measles, yellow fever.  So, we don’t want any more immigrants here,” or “Let’s send away all these immigrants, who only bring misfortune,” are some examples.

For Carla Aguiar, during this period these populations have confronted huge difficulties accessing social policies in Brazil: “Public policies don’t work well for Brazilians, still less for immigrants and refugees,” she asserts. According to the CAMI social worker, there are challenges these individuals face during the pandemic that circumscribe their daily lives, related to work, healthcare and education.  There are problems in relocating to the formal labour market and, when there is employment, working conditions are inadequate. In the case of health, difficulties of access, lack of professional preparation, precarious services and xenophobia are factors that demonstrate the additional risks they experience in the epidemic context; not to mention the impracticality of distance learning for children due to a lack of internet access or targeted follow-up.

Furthermore, the organization exposes the precarious financial conditions of refugees and immigrants intrinsic to emergency displacement.  Most of this population sustains their lives and their families through the informal labour market, and, due to isolation measures, have lost their sources of income.  Many have therefore ended up living on the streets or in peripheral communities without basic infrastructure to guarantee their fundamental rights.

Another unique issue is lack of documentation. According to CAMI, a lack of documentation aggravates all other problems and has direct consequences on people’s lives: “Today we have people who are hungry because they were not granted amnesty and don’t have documents, so they don’t even have the right to assuage their hunger through emergency aid.  Food to assuage hunger only reaches them through churches and NGOs such as CAMI,” Aguillar reports.

And Pattussi describes the importance of CESE’s support in this scenario: “CESE was the first institution that, faced with the pandemic, demonstrated its concern for immigrants and refugees.  It made contact with us to find out what was happening to them at that time, asked for a report and sought support to give us hope that together we could overcome this moment.  This sensitive view enabled CAMI to give many families food, but not only food, hope as well.”

Read the interview in full:

CESE: How has the pandemic impacted on the lives of immigrants and refugees?

ROQUE PATTUSSI: The pandemic has brought to light previously hidden problems that affect immigrants and refugees, such as xenophobia, discrimination, intolerance.  There are also cases of hate against these populations.  For example: “Chinese and Venezuelan immigrants brought COVID-19, measles, yellow fever.  So, we don’t want any more immigrants here,” or “Let’s send away all these immigrants, who only bring misfortune”.

As well as these problems, there are huge impacts in terms of hunger, unemployment, a lack of hygiene and cleaning materials for prevention; Lack of access to emergency aid; The evictions of countless families; Deaths of immigrants and refugees from COVID-19; Difficulty in accessing healthcare; Many immigrant families cannot access the schools where their children were studying.

There are many impacts.  It seems as if the definition of the word “vulnerable” has expanded with the pandemic, gaining strength from its origin.  And we can feel how immigrants and refugees are psychologically and socially vulnerable, since many were in informal work, however, every day this informal work guaranteed that there was bread on their tables, which weren’t very plentiful, guaranteed the rent was paid at the end of the month. Many have lost their houses, have gone to live with families or friends or onto the street.  Immigrants and refugees have always had problems accessing decent housing and living conditions and guaranteeing their minimum fundamental rights.  Many still have a problem with out-of-date documents, making their situation irregular.  One more challenge to overcome.

CESE: Are there any positive impacts?

ROQUE PATTUSSI: The pandemic has generated many positive impacts, such as the great unity between immigrants and their support for each other; The involvement of immigrant communities in collecting and distributing food and the active search for families in need; The increase in the number of leaders of these communities; More native people defending the guarantee and access to rights of immigrants and refugees; Many more people and families getting to know CAMI and seeking support for documentation and all the services the institutions provides free of charge; Offering food to needy Brazilian families and thus valuing the presence of immigrants.  And the appearance of a large contingent of undocumented immigrants who were invisible.

 

CESE: As well as the challenges experienced by these vulnerable populations, immigrants and refugees face the issue of a lack of documentation.  Why has the regularization of their documents become more urgent during the pandemic?

CARLA AGUILLAR: Unfortunately, the Amnesty with the New Migration Law of 2017 was not approved; this was requested by all the civil society organizations linked to immigrants, to equalize everyone’s rights.  Unfortunately, this did not happen and the damage done has been revealed in the pandemic.  The government vetoed the request for amnesty and other proposals which would have supported their rights, such as the vote.  Today, we have individuals who are hungry because they were not granted amnesty and don’t have documents, so they don’t even have the right to assuage their hunger through emergency aid.  Food to assuage hunger only reaches them through churches and NGOs such as CAMI.

The National Migration Registry (Registro Nacional Migratório: RNM) has been transformed into a piece of paper with no photo.  It is not recognized  by the public services.  So, how is this person going to get work?  Services at the Federal Police offices have been suspended since 18 March, however, for three years we have had problems accessing the system to make appointments for those who need to start their residency process or renew their documents.  The New Migration Law imposes a fine of BRL 100.00 per day on people whose presence in the country hasn’t been regularized.

Without documents, immigrants and refugees have limited access to health, although the Unified Health Service (Sistema Único de Saúde: SUS) is universal.  In other words, the Brazilian government urgently needs to grant an amnesty or the speedy regularization of immigrants or those seeking refuge, so they can exercise their right to fight against COVID-19.  To document is to exist.  Without documents, people don’t exist.

CESE: How has the Brazilian government acted to implement public policies for refugees and/or access to rights, in particular the right to work, health and education?

CARLA AGUILLAR: Public policies do not work well for Brazilians, still less for immigrants and refugees. It is not enough to provide immigrants with access to public services, the pressing need at this time is to provide them with speed and quality, so as to secure basic human and social rights and enable them to live with dignity.  Regarding work, for example, although some immigrants may work formally, there are many difficulties in obtaining formal work and job offers almost always involve paying less or producing more than before the pandemic.

In the case of health, unfortunately universality is not always respected when dealing with immigrants and refugees.  There was a case of an immigrant who was insisting he wasn’t well, with COVID-19 symptoms, which weren’t taken into account.  Three days later, he died from the disease.  Lack of respect, a lack of preparation and a lack of empathy have become very prevalent in the pandemic.  In education, learning has now become very difficult.  The majority don’t have access to the internet, don’t have computers or mobile phones in order to follow classes.  Moreover, parents are not able to help with on-line classes.

CESE:  How important was CESE’s support to the “Emergency Support Project due to the COVID-19 pandemic” at this time?

ROQUE PATTUSSI: We’d like to start by expressing our GRATITUDE to CESE for its approach to CAMI, to the immigrants and refugees, for the speed and sensitivity with which it dealt with this moment and the follow-up provided at this time.

CESE was the first institution which, faced with the pandemic, demonstrated its concern for immigrants and refugees.  It made contact with us, to find out what was happening to them at that time, asked for a report and sought support to give us hope that together we could overcome this moment.  This sensitive view enabled CAMI to give many families food, but not only food, hope as well.

The families felt remembered, included in a solidarity programme, which gave them more energy to think about other possibilities. We could say that CESE’s support to our project was vital, since it demonstrated sensitivity to the cause of the invisible, helped us to structure our work and transformed us into an institution with a centre to support and distribute food and hope.  In principle, we thought we would only be able to provide a few staple food baskets to help the immigrants and refugees, but this led us to open up other pathways and call on other partners together. And that’s how we arrived at the more than 4 thousand families we have supported so far.

CESE: As well as support from CESE, CAMI has worked with other organizations and run other initiatives, such as virtual campaigns for the donation of milk, staple food baskets, protective materials and hygiene and cleaning products. Do you have an assessment of the scope of your work during the pandemic?

CARLA AGUILLAR: We have delivered 4,515 staple food baskets; 100 families have received organic food; 4,515 cleaning kits (bleach, hand sanitizer, soap powder); 1,600 hygiene kits; 4,600 facemasks; 130 packets of disposable nappies; 3,964 women; 551 men and 2,702 children have benefited.

CESE: Beyond donations, how has CAMI worked in this new coronavirus context?

ROQUE PATTUSSI: The pandemic came to the table and obliged us to reinvent and innovate.  Hunger attacked our people from the first week of the pandemic since, without documents, without emergency aid, without work, immigrants and refugees had no one to rely on.

The first step was to raise funds just for food and to seek out partners to set up a solidarity network.  We found a group of 42 Bolivian and African community collectives, who asked us to lead everything through the Bolivia Solidarity Collective, since we had the experience and technical support to deal with this type of situation.  In the first week, we set up a Pandemic Crisis Committee to look at each of the immigrants’ and refugees’ needs and come up with solutions.  From the first day, we transformed all our services into virtual ones, to protect our team from COVID-19.  And with the committee, we set up teams to support the emerging demands and challenges: A team for issues related to documentation; Logistics to distribute staple food baskets; Social Assistance and Legal Advice; Sewing Workshops; Communication and Online Courses.

CESE: How can people support CAMI’s work at this time?

CARLA AGUILLAR: We are predicting that the situation will carry on for a long time.  For this reason, it is of vital importance to recommend CAMI to other funding institutions.  We predict that the situation will continue until there is a vaccine.  Since immigrants will be the last people considered when work resumes, we expect that the months of suffering and need will be greater for them than for Brazilians.

CAMI has used much of its reserve fund, which was destined to match projects in 2021, transforming these funds into food, and hygiene and cleaning products, and we are still donating to families.  Here are some of the ways people can contribute to the reconstitution of this fund:

Bank details:

Banco do Brasil/ Sort code (Ag): 0383-2/ Current account (Cc): 46077-x.

And Itaú S/A/ Sort code (Ag): 0609/ Current account (Cc): 0042568-1

Company registration number (CNPJ ) 19.122.009/0001-01 – CAMI – Centro de Apoio e Pastoral do Migrante

Personal donations

Av. Nothmann, 485 – Campo Elíseos – São Paulo/ Telefone: +55 (11) 333.0847 / Monday: 2pm to 5pm | Friday: Sexta-feira: 2pm to 5pm

Donation of São Paulo tax invoice credits (a local government initiative)

When you make a purchase, please provide CAMI’s company registration number (CNPJ) instead of your Taxpayer Identification Number, as a way of donating São Paulo tax invoice credits. If a commercial establishment refuses to accept CAMI’s CNPJ (19.122.009/0001-01) when you make your purchase, you can donate your tax invoice – simply bring the tax coupon to one of CAMI’s projects.

 

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Phone.: (71)2104-5457, Fax: (71)2104-5456, E-mail: cese@cese.org.br
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