A new life in Brazil: the journey of Venezuelan refugees

Countries Brazil
Date 21.10.2021

Funded by the "US Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the project “Welcomed through Work” has reached the end of its first two-year phase, supporting the integration of more than a thousand Venezuelan migrants in the country and helping almost 500 of them finding employment.

To celebrate this occasion, towards the end of September the Banco do Brasil (CCBB) cultural center in Brasilia hosted a public event and the inauguration of the photo exhibition "Welcomed: A Journey from Venezuela to Integration in Brazil", featuring shots by the award-winning Italian photographer Antonello Veneri.

The photos provide a striking visual documentation of the project, which partners with private companies to secure formal employment for Venezuelans in Brazil and helps them settle into new communities through housing support and social services. It started in October 2019 and has now been approved for an additional two years.

It has been described by AVSI secretary general, Giampaolo Silvestri, as proof of the fact "that only a multi-stakeholder approach, involving private enterprises, institutional donors and other NGOs, can help addressing the migration phenomenon."

This was clear from the diverse representatives who spoke at the inauguration ceremony of the photo exhibition, which will last for one month. Speakers included Fabrizio Pellicelli, AVSI regional manager for Latin America, and Sister Rosita Milesi, director of the Migration and Human Rights Institute (IMDH), an implementing partner in the project. She spoke about a “shared dream” for the initiative and the “welcoming embrace” that must be offered to the Venezuelans. Jose Egas, the representative of UNHCR in Brazil, also spoke, as well as Bernardo de Almeida Tannuri Laferte, General Coordinator of Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees, who talked about how immigrants from Lebanon and Italy shaped the culture of his hometown.

AVSI also hosted a seminar - “The journey of Venezuelan migrants towards self-reliance in Brazil” - where political scientist Bertha Maakaroun presented the findings of her extensive study on the project’s effect on the social and economic situation of the beneficiaries. Bertha explained that she had found that, post-relocation, Venezuelans who had received jobs and social assistance from AVSI were much more likely to have enough money to pay for their basic needs and access social services. On average, they exhibit a steady increase in family income over time. They were also much more likely to express feeling happiness and satisfaction with life.

The exhibition

Looking at Veneri’s photos, it is easy to see that through their jobs, Venezuelan migrants have regained their dignity and sense of self-reliance, being able to provide for their families.

At the exhibit's inauguration, Veneri described the process and decisions behind each photograph. He took hundreds of pictures of Venezuelan migrants and refugees along every step of their path to integration in Brazil, from their first days in the refugee camps near the border to their new jobs, houses, and communities around the country.

"The portraits are my favorite because when someone looks into the camera, there is a frank exchange between the photographer and his subject. Looking at these people is a way of listening to what they have to say. Each person gave me something, and that's what you can see in this exhibit," says Veneri, who recalls one particular day. "When I went to the reception center of Pricumã, which receives people with disabilities, everybody got in line to take a picture. It was the first time something like that had happened to me. They wanted human recognition through my portraits. It was an amazing experience."

The project

Welcomed through Work is a project by AVSI Foundation, AVSI Brasil and AVSI-USA, funded by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). It is aimed at strengthening the actions of “Operação Acolhida”: a humanitarian task force led by the Brazilian federal government and created in response to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

"The work that AVSI Brasil develops is part of a broad alliance, where several partners, with different institutional missions and responsibilities, enable a path of integral development for Venezuelan refugees and migrants," says Pellicelli. "Every person is welcomed; has his/her documentation regularized, and receives help to find new resources and a new home to restart life."

The initiative has the institutional support of the Civil House of the Presidency of the Republic, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the civil society organizations that work on refugee and migration matters.