Brazil: Compassionate Collaboration…Empowering Migrants and Refugees

Rosita MSCS and Adriano Barcelos

In 1895, Bishop João Batista Scalabrini passionately advocated for migrants fleeing famine in Italy, dedicating himself to their cause. Recognizing the vulnerability of migrant children, particularly orphans, he felt compelled to establish the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo – Scalabrinians. Over the past 128 years, these sisters have faithfully carried out their mission, serving migrants, refugees, and forcibly displaced individuals across various regions and contexts. Inspired by their founding principles and guided by faith and the teachings of Pope Francis, they actively respond to contemporary challenges in human mobility, forming alliances and partnerships to amplify their impact, including establishing the Scalabrinian Foundation to support global migrant-focused initiatives further.

The Institute of Migrations and Human Rights (IMDH) is a Brasília-based social, humanitarian, and philanthropic organization that, alongside other partners, contributes to the Foundation’s efforts in countries such as South Africa, Argentina, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, working to support and empower migrant communities. Through collaborative endeavors and a shared commitment to upholding the dignity and rights of migrants and refugees, the Scalabrinian Sisters, IMDH, and their partner organizations foster a more inclusive and compassionate world.

Support and Integration of Migrants and Refugees in Brazil

In recent years, Brazil has experienced a notable increase in the number of migrants and refugees, with Venezuelans forming the most significant contingents due to the worsening economic and social crisis in their country. The Brazilian government has taken steps to address this situation by implementing legal measures to assist, including options for asylum and residency authorization, thus ensuring that individuals are not left undocumented due to lack of support.

However, despite these efforts, vulnerable groups within the migrant and refugee population, such as children, the elderly, and single mothers or pregnant women, continue to face challenges in accessing essential resources like food, adequate hygiene facilities, and educational opportunities for their children. These difficulties have been further compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to widespread unemployment and economic hardship, leaving many families without the means to meet their basic survival needs.

In response to these challenges, numerous civil society organizations and religious institutions have stepped up to support and assist migrant and refugee families, offering solidarity in the face of adversity.

The Support of the Hilton Foundation for Sisters through the Scalabrinian Foundation

Considering the emergency of Venezuelan migration, IMDH was founded in 1999 to assist migrants and refugees, inspired by the guiding values of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. The support of the Hilton Foundation for Sisters in 2023 was crucial in this mission. With over 7.7 million Venezuelans displaced, including 836,613 entering Brazil by April 2023, the situation demanded urgent action. IMDH, operating in Brasília and Roraima, collaborated with the Scalabrinian Foundation and Hilton Foundation for Sisters to address critical needs. This support included provisions for food, hygiene, and educational resources, particularly for Venezuelan migrants. The goal was to empower them with tools for self-sufficiency, emphasizing autonomous income generation projects to foster long-term resilience and stability within the migrant community.

The project focused on several key objectives, such as the reduction of food insecurity among the vulnerable population and the support for children with school supplies; additionally, it aimed to improve hygiene conditions, recognizing the importance of maintaining health and dignity, and finally to ensure some kind of financial autonomy. Another crucial objective was to ensure migratory regularization for migrants and refugees by assisting them in obtaining legal documentation for their stay in the country. This documentation provides legal protection and access to essential public benefits and services, enhancing their overall well-being.

Moreover, IMDH emphasized the importance of individualized support and service within the project to ensure that migrants and refugees have the necessary documentation for their regular stay in the country. This personalized approach aims to provide tranquility and security to individuals, enabling them to access government assistance and public services effectively. While serving the same migrant and refugee population from Venezuela, IMDH recognized each location’s diverse characteristics, vulnerabilities, and needs. In Roraima, where demands are more urgent, direct provision of supplies and collaboration with existing projects like the “Solidarity Kitchen” were prioritized. In Brasília, attention shifted towards assisting migrants in obtaining legal documents and providing transportation services, alongside continued food, hygiene, and education support.

A particular feature of the service is the “Good Samaritan House,” a project of IMDH in partnership with AVSI Brasil and the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB). This house provides temporary shelter, training, and support for employment-seeking migrants and refugees, thereby facilitating their integration into the local community and fostering self-sufficiency.

In Brasília, IMDH addressed the needs of the indigenous people of Warao ethnicity by providing food and securing settlement space. In Roraima and Brasília, empowering women for self-sustainability is a priority due to their childcare responsibilities. IMDH identifies and supports women’s entrepreneurial initiatives to provide for their families. The project’s success in aiding Venezuelan migrants and refugees is evident, with a focus on providing essential support and facilitating their integration into Brazilian society. The outcomes of the support offered by IMDH to beneficiaries are often intangible and extend over years, impacting lives in profound ways. For instance, ensuring early childhood nutrition fosters long-term growth and cognitive development.

Similarly, supporting mothers in income generation projects benefits the family emotionally and materially, enabling closer bonds and stability. IMDH extends heartfelt gratitude to the Hilton Foundation for Sisters and the Scalabrinian Foundation for their invaluable support in 2023. Their partnership underscores the belief that collective efforts enhance missions, particularly aiding society’s most vulnerable.

Sr. Rosita, Director of IMDH, and Adriano Barcelos, Volunteer Collaborating Journalist