The government of Rio de Janeiro is set to create the program Rio de Braços Abertos (“open-armed Rio,” in a literal English translation), aimed at helping refugees and immigrants gain access to basic paperwork, education, and the labor market. The initiative is expected to be implemented by the end of the year.
The project was presented on Thursday (Aug 17) during a meeting of the State Council of Women's Rights. Researchers, refugees, and authorities took part in a debate. According to Átila Nunes, secretary for human rights and policies for women and the elderly, the initiative will be launched under the plan for refugees already implemented by the state, and focus on education in its first stage.
The program's main goals are providing the proper paperwork for refugees—a common first barrier—Portuguese, with language courses offered in partnership with the Secretariat of Education, and health care.
A video was produced by the Secretariat and played at the beginning of the debate showing people's reaction to the attacks suffered by Syrian national Mohamed Ali early this month while he was selling snacks in Copacabana. The clip had people expressing outrage and solidarity, and a message directed at the refugees: “Welcome,” “don't lose hope,” and “We're all human beings.”
Emotional, Mohamed Ali, who attended the meeting wearing an “I love Rio” T-shirt, said he was not expecting “such a positive response from the people of Rio” after the aggression.
Foreign degree validation
Ângela Vasconcelos, a social work professor at the Federal Fluminense Univeristy (UFF) and the coordinator of the Laboratory for Public Policies, Migration and Refuge, said that the topic is subject to little academic research, but added that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has developed an initiative since 2003, entitled Cátedra Sérgio Vieira de Mello, in cooperation with public and philanthropic institutions, aiming to promote studies on refugees.
According to Professor Vasconcelos, 18 institutions are involved in Brazil, among them UFF, which is currently having its application to join the Cátedra validated. The professor argues that universities should be more active in welcoming refugees by conducting research, inclusive admission exams, and, above all, validating international degrees.
“There is no different treatment for the diploma of refugees. The member universities deal with the complex and expensive issue of degree revalidation sensitively, as each university has a different course and each program coordination department sets forth their own guidelines for revalidation.”
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira