PUCRS awarded Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair for refugee rights

In partnership with UN, University will develop initiatives in teaching, research and extension

05/07/2022 - 10h57

PUCRS is now one of the Brazilian recipients of the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair. An agreement signed between the University and the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) in June – marked by World Refugee Day – materializes the efforts to address the needs of refugees, an area that has been hotly debated in the University’s teaching, research and extension programs and initiatives.

The initiative that accredits PUCRS as a reference in Human Rights, and epitomizes the institutional efforts from different areas, has been spearheaded by the Law School, through the Center for Legal Practice and the Human Rights Advisory Service for Immigrants and Refugees (SADHIR). According to the Dean of the School, Dr. Fabrício Dreyer de Ávila Pozzebon, this represents a long, and qualified work carried out by SADHIR, which began as an extension project, proposed by Dr. Gustavo de Lima Pereira.

“The Chair not only signals the recognition of the earnestness and quality of what we do here, by such an important agency as the United Nations (UN), but also represents new possibilities for teaching, research and extension”, he highlights.

To the recipients of the Chair, the UN’s Agency for Refugees has a Term of Reference, which binds the institution to, among other things, promote actions to advocate for the rights of refugees. According to the agreement, academic programs for faculty and students should incorporate a component on refugees. After the cooperation agreement was signed, the Law School now relies on the support to facilitate research, events and, above all, technical support in advising vulnerable migrants in Porto Alegre, thus strengthening the reception and local integration.

“Every day people around the world are forced to leave their homes in search of a better future, and sometimes in search of protection. As a Marist institution, our mission is to promote life and, based on our commitment to human dignity, help meet the needs of refugees through different initiatives. This recognition, which is also a renewed commitment, motivates us to continue to be strong and expand our perspectives in this priority area”, Br. Evilázio Teixeira, president of PUCRS, says.

Helping immigrants and refugees

Comprising 15 members of PUCRS’ Law School and International Relations programs who are familiar with the difficulties and insecurities faced by vulnerable individuals in Brazil, the Human Rights Advisory Service for Immigrants and Refugees works to address the demands associated with immigration in Brazil. The goal of the initiative is to help immigrants to settle in Brazil and to address occasional legal demands and doubts related to documentation, housing and health.

Accountable to the Law School since 2016, SADHIR addresses legal, administrative and social issues in the practical, academic and political spheres, to contribute to the promotion of relevant public policies.

“This is an initiative for our students and the academic community to develop essential skills for their own professional life, which is characteristic of the Mission that guides our University”, Pozzebon adds.

According to Dr. Gustavo de Lima Pereira, there are 100 million refugees or displaced persons (refugees within their own country in need for protection) according to the latest UN report. The way he sees it, UNHCR’s protection is aimed at promoting international cooperation between countries and attention to refugee rights.

“This has become a prominent issue in recent years as a result of the conflicts in Venezuela and after the pandemic, with masses of refugees, and now with the war in Ukraine, which we don’t how long it will last. Today we do not have updated data in the country because Brazil is not a typical country of migration”, Pereira adds.

Regarding the possibility that we are experiencing a migratory crisis, he claims there is no reason to be concerned about it: “There are more Brazilians outside Brazil than nationals from other countries in our territory. It’s not true that Brazil is going through a migratory crisis. Nearby countries, such as Ecuador, have many more refugees than Brazil, especially because of the language issue, in the case of Venezuelan and Colombian refugees. Even if we do not have updated data, it is very far from becoming a problem or a danger for the country”.

A learning laboratory for life

Students from Law and International Relations courses work at SADHIR, expanding their academic training / Photo: Giordano Toldo

According to Pereira, SADHIR operates in three areas: multifocal orientation for the migrant population, which involves not only legal demands, but also many other existential actions, such as the search for accommodation, contact with embassies and in a network with several national and international institutions; encouragement to research and academic development, with the promotion of

a congress on human rights and forced migration every year (which is now in its 6th edition); and participation in meetings of government human rights secretariats to promote public policies for the migrant population.

“The main demands that come to us involve issues of family reunion, especially from Haitians who want their family to come to Brazil. A recent migration act, from 2017, establishes the possibility of visa for family reunion and a humanitarian visa. The current problem is that the migration is not a priority in Brazil, and this makes things more difficult. We also have requests from people who want to become naturalized Brazilians, requests for refuge and work in conjunction with other entities such as police stations and legal authorities in the production of booklets on human rights”, he highlights.

Find out about student testimonials:

“I joined SADHIR a few weeks ago, and I already feel extremely happy to be part of this group whose main principle is to try to make a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees living in the Porto Alegre area. I had the chance to listen to two Haitian immigrants and, as much as the essential thing is to seek solutions to help them out, to able to hear them tell their life stories has already shown how vital SADHIR’s work is as it brings hope to the dark period we are going through in our country and in the world. We have many projects going on and I am sure that we will be able to evolve more and more as a group and also as human beings” – Katarina Araujo Bandeira, student of the 1st semester in the Law School program.

“Although I have recently joined SADHIR, participating in the group has made me learn more about Human Rights and issues related to refugees and immigrants. It is very enriching to be able to take action, and see, in practice, how these issues develop and at the same time helping people in need” – Elis Guimarães Martini, 2nd semester student in the Law School program.

“I joined the team since the beginning of my college life, which for me was a differential in the academia, as SADHIR allowed me to see in practice what I learned in theory about migratory law. These three years were essential for my professional development in the area of migration and refuge. In addition, it is really gratifying to have the opportunity to be there for those who need our help” – Juliana Nunes Farias, student in the 9th semester of the Law School program.

Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair

The Chair, as the name suggests, is a tribute to the Brazilian Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who died in Iraq in 2003, and who devoted much of his professional career at the United Nations to work with refugees. UNHCR’s actions in Brazil are guided by the same principles and functions as in any other country: protecting refugees and promoting lasting solutions to their problems.

UNHCR emphasizes that refugees must have the protection of the Brazilian government and are entitled to the same rights as other non-national Brazilians: obtain documents, work, study and exercise the same rights. Brazil is internationally recognized as a welcoming country. However, in this country, refugees also find it difficult to integrate into Brazilian society.

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