Venezuelan children play in a refugee shelter in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil, August 26, 2018.

© 2018 Lucas Dantas for Human Rights Watch

On December 5, Brazil’s refugee agency (CONARE) granted asylum to 21,432 Venezuelans . Until then, CONARE had granted asylum to a total of just 263. There are currently 224,000 Venezuelans living in Brazil.

In June, CONARE concluded that “serious and widespread violations of human rights” exist in Venezuela, paving the way for the mass recognition of refugee status under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which provides guidance to Latin American governments on the scope of refugee protection.  

CONARE based its June finding on a 25-page technical report on the situation in Venezuela that cited Human Rights Watch’s work thirty times. The report extensively quoted Human Rights Watch research showing compelling evidence of serious human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government under Nicolás Maduro, including excessive use of force against journalists and protesters, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees that in some cases amounted to torture, and eradicating judicial independence in the country. The report also relied on our research on the collapse of Venezuela’s health system and a spike in treatable diseases.     

The Brazilian government’s historic decision – considered a “milestone in refugee protection” by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – is a recognition of the rights and dignity that so many Venezuelans in Brazil have hoped for. We have spoken to scores of Venezuelan asylum seekers at the Brazilian border over the past three years, and with this decision, it feels as though they have finally received the protection, stability, and reassurance to start a new life that they desperately need.

CONARE should next make a prompt decision on the cases of 98,000 other Venezuelans whose requests for asylum are still pending. Other countries in the region should take note and follow Brazil’s leadership in providing legal protection to Venezuelan refugees.