On Monday, September 19, world leaders will gather in New York for a summit on the global refugee and migrant crises. The summit has been billed as a chance to create a more responsive and orderly global system for meeting the needs of millions of people on the move, most of whom are fleeing war and persecution. The aim is to provide far greater support to the front-line states that have often been left to shoulder the burden when large influxes of refugees cross their borders.

Because Brazil lies an ocean away from the largest refugee crises, it has been spared the responsibility that countries like Lebanon, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, and Thailand have had to face.

Renewed funding could help Brazil offer support for refugees to find housing and work. It could help Brazil improve its capacity to promote refugee integration, protect refugees’ rights, and provide special services to those at increased risk of discrimination, abuse, and neglect.

Maria Laura Canineu & Bill Frelick

Director, Brazil & Director, Refugee Program

In fact, Brazil’s contribution to sharing responsibility for the world’s refugees has been negligible. It stands dead last on the list by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, of 30 countries that participate in resettlement programs.in the ratio of resettled refugees to population. With a population of over 206 million, Brazil admitted 6 refugees through those programs in 2015, a single refugee for every 34 million people in the country.

Today, with inadequate support from Europe and North America, even the countries neighboring Syria are starting to close their doors to asylum seekers. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been stranded for more than two years behind a bulldozed berm just inside Jordan’s border. Turkey has been pushing back Syrians at its border for more than a year, sometimes firing on asylum seekers who approach.

A still from video shows Omran, the 5-year old boy who was pulled out of the rubble after an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria on August 17, 2016. 

© 2016 Aleppo Media Centre via Youtube

Brazilians have been horrified by images of tiny Syrian children wounded or killed in the scramble to escape the violence at home. This is no time for us to slam the door on them.

At the summit, Brazil could reverse course and set an example for the powerful northern countries that are not doing their share by making a commitment to take significantly more Syrian refugees.

Brazil has made a small start, by issuing more than 8,000 humanitarian visas to Syrians. More than 2,000 have settled here under those visas.  While it may not be the traditional, permanent refugee resettlement model, it is helping to move highly vulnerable people at least temporarily to safer ground.   Immediately prior to leaving office in August, former Justice Minister Eugênio Aragão in the Rousseff government said that with international help, Brazil could take 100,000 Syrian refugees, at the rate of 20,000 a year.

So far, the new Brazilian government has remained silent on the fate of the millions of people desperately in need of help. Worse, it has not continued negotiations with Germany and the European Union, started by the previous administration, for funding a resettlement program in Brazil.

Renewed funding could help Brazil offer support, as Germany does, for refugees to find housing and work. It could help Brazil improve its capacity to promote refugee integration, protect refugees’ rights, and provide special services to those at increased risk of discrimination, abuse, and neglect.

In 2004, Brazil had proposed a regional program of resettlement, mostly for those fleeing other Latin American countries. At a 2014 regional conference in Brasilia, “The Brazil Declaration” renewed commitments to the program.

Accepting refugees during this monumental crisis is a matter of shared responsibility and international solidarity.  The General Assembly summit offers Brazil an opportunity to re-open negotiations with Germany and Europe and get international funds flowing this way for refugee resettlement. Brazil should re-establish itself as a compassionate global leader, committed to the reception and integration of refugees.