500 Venezuelan refugees find a job in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Date 18.04.2021

Brazil has seen a steady increase in Coronavirus cases over the last few weeks as the new, more aggressive Amazon variant continues to spread. Still one of the worst affected countries in the world, Brazil continues to register a painfully high number of daily deaths and its sanitary system is cracking under the pressure. As Fabrizio Pellicelli, AVSI Regional Manager for Latin America, explains in a recent interview on the Italian RAI radio station, the situation is particularly hard at the borders. AVSI’s staff is actively working in these areas, since the already difficult conditions displaced people find themselves in are most likely to further worsen.

In spite of the pandemic, AVSI's activities to assist incoming migrants have not stopped. Thanks for example to the project “Welcomed Through Work”, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), AVSI Brasil has facilitated a dignified integration for more than 500 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Brazil, with more still to come. In the project’s first year, 284 Venezuelans were hired by Brazilian companies and relocated, along with 291 family members, from reception shelters in Boa Vista to other Brazilian cities where AVSI secured accommodations. Once the hired people and their families arrive in the new cities, AVSI Brasil provides initial housing support and protection services through social workers.

Designed to strengthen and complement “Operation Welcome” (“Operação Acolhida”) – the Brazilian Government and UNHCR’s joint humanitarian emergency program – “Welcomed Through Work” aims to support the integration of Venezuelans in Brazil, by facilitating their voluntary relocation (“interiorization”) from Boa Vista to other Brazilian states with guaranteed formal jobs.

“Welcomed Through Work” manager Thais Braga celebrates the results so far, especially considering that they were achieved in a year when Brazil suffered greatly from COVID-19.

“The first Venezuelan refugees were relocated at the beginning of February 2020. At that time, there was still no record of positive COVID-19 cases in Brazil. We were able to have 67 migrants and refugees hired by a local food processing company in the city of Seara, in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil. Then, 19 family members also moved to the new city, totaling 86 people in this first group.” explains Thais Braga, "Welcomed Through Work" manager.

Thais saw the success of the first relocation as a sign that AVSI Brasil would successfully implement the project since other companies began to show their interest in hiring Venezuelan refugees. However, in March, when the country registered the first case of COVID-19, the “Welcomed Through Work” team had to review their approach.

“To guarantee everybody’s safety, we had to redesign our plan and put in place new protocols to continue the project,” says Thais.

The second relocation took place six months later, this time in partnership with Refúgio 343. They hired ten attendants for a fast-food restaurant chain in Brasília. Twelve family members joined the group, and 22 people in total were relocated.

“Fortunately, since then, we have been able to do a series of integrations through work to several states in Brazil,” says Thais. “We learned that, even during these difficult times, private companies still want to engage in the Venezuelan humanitarian assistance.”

From September 2020 through March 2021, AVSI Brasil carried out 14 “interiorizations” to eight Brazilian states. The most recent activity happened at the end of March when 85 people were hired by a hospital supply company in Blumenau, Santa Catarina. Their relocation was possible thanks to a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and with the support of “Operation Welcome.”

Venezuelans hired through the project have filled diverse professional roles, including production operators, general services assistants, mechanics, restaurant attendants, and cooks.

Thais says that the private sector commitment to the health and job training of new employees was essential to the project’s success.

“It is crucial to ensure that those selected are fit for the tasks they were hired to perform. A primary condition is that they are healthy from the beginning,” says Thais. “So we work in partnership with companies to guarantee all the necessary conditions, such as the monitoring of admission exams, vaccination, COVID-19 tests, among others”.

By September 2021, “Welcomed Through Work” will integrate at least 337 Venezuelan refugees and migrants through work and offer relocation, accommodation and social assistance to 761 people.

Welcomed through work” by the numbers, through the first 18 months:

  • 575 people have received housing and social assistance post-relocation;
  • 284 Venezuelan refugees have been hired through the project;
  • 16 relocations to 8 Brazilian states: Santa Catarina (6), Mato Grosso (2), Minas Gerais (2), Distrito Federal (2), Rio Grande do Sul (1), São Paulo (1), Rio de Janeiro (1), and Paraná (1);
  • 260 Venezuelans have completed preparatory training courses to improve their Portuguese language and professional skills;
  • 250 vulnerable Brazilians have received technical skills training;
  • 13 private companies hired Venezuelans;
  • 8 Brazilians have been placed in jobs