Operation Welcome (or Operação Acolhida, in Portugese) is the Brazil government’s humanitarian response to a historic wave of refugees and migrants arriving from the country’s northern neighbour, Venezuela.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) plays a key role in that effort and last month (January 2021) reached an important milestone, purchasing the 10,000th airline ticket to assist Venezuelan families seeking relocation in Brazil’s south.
Part of that welcome is Brazil’s effort to transfer newly arrived Venezuelans who choose to voluntarily relocate from the northern border—one of the country’s less developed regions—to cities and states across the country.
The Federal Government of Brazil’s voluntary relocation strategy was initiated in April 2018. IOM had supported the government in all aspects of the effort, whose beneficiaries surpassed 46,000 as of December 2020.
Established to relieve the pressure on public health, social assistance, and education in the state of Roraima and elsewhere in Northern Brazil, the initiative assists refugees and migrants from Venezuela who wish to remain in the country, yet are willing to relocate to other parts of Brazil.
The expectation is that a fresh start will expand the possibilities of socioeconomic integration for these new arrivals.
Family groups account for about 87 per cent of the cases. Such was the case of “Diannys,” whose group included three children and five adults. Together, they flew from Roraima to the municipality of Assis Chautebriand, in Paraná, on Brazil’s southern coast.
Diannys described her family’s emotions after IOM confirmed they’d be making the trip as a mixture of gratitude and hopes and anticipation of facing new opportunities.
“It was challenging to leave my country, but I am very grateful to have the possibility of coming to Brazil,” Diannys explained. “Above all, we are looking for a better life for our children. IOM helped us a lot, and we are completely grateful to them.”
IOM’s role working with Operation Welcome consists of an array of tasks, including assisting in the verification of the beneficiaries’ documentation and conducting medical consultations before travel. IOM staff also engage in the active search for job vacancies in intended destinations before the flights leave, and with ground transfer when necessary after the flights land.
Besides all this face-to-face support for the Venezuelans, IOM has provided 600 commercial airline tickets each month for the Operation Welcome’s relocation capacity, complementing similar flights carried out by the Brazilian Air Force, which moves hundreds at a time on larger planes.
The head of the Relocation Coordination Center of Operation Welcome, Colonel Luis Henrique Valério, noted that IOM’s assistance providing commercial airline passage allows Brazil to take smaller groups to smaller cities. “This increases their opportunities, especially access to the job market,” Colonel Valério said.
A “Passport for Education” is provided to families with children. It is a kit comprising bilingual educational booklets with cultural information about Brazil and information on the enrollment process in Brazil’s public schools.
Relocations didn’t stop during 2020, even with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We adapted, strengthened security protocols, and continued to support Operation Welcome. It is a great satisfaction to know that we helped make the dream of these 10,000 people come true”, said IOM Relocation Coordinator, Eugênio Guimarães.
IOM’s activities in the Relocation Strategy are carried out with financial support from the United States Department of State’s Office of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).