Uprooted by Brazil Floods, Foreign Refugees ‘Start All Over Again’


Tens of thousands of Haitians and Venezuelans who had found refuge in southern Brazil are now facing new challenges after severe flooding hit Rio Grande do Sul state. These people, who had already escaped hunger, violence, and natural disasters in their home countries, now have to rebuild their lives yet again.

One of these individuals is Reginald Descilong. He left Haiti after losing family and friends in the devastating earthquake of 2010. It took him three years to reach Brazil, traveling through Central America on foot and by bus. Today, at 39 years old, Reginald, along with his wife and three daughters, is staying in a public shelter in Porto Alegre, the state capital, which has been heavily flooded.

“It seems like disasters keep following us,” Reginald said. “I came here, but the problems never stop. We lost everything in our home to the floodwaters, and we can’t even return there by boat.” He is uncertain about the future and feels like he has to start from scratch once more.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 43,000 refugees living in Rio Grande do Sul. This includes 29,000 Venezuelans and 12,000 Haitians. The state is one of the top three destinations for refugees relocated through a federal humanitarian program aimed at helping migrants fleeing from Venezuela.

Many refugees, like Reginald, managed to find stable jobs with benefits. Between 2011 and 2019, more than 14,000 refugees in Rio Grande do Sul found formal employment, which is the highest number compared to other Brazilian states, based on data from Brazil’s Justice Ministry.

The Sarandi neighborhood on the north side of Porto Alegre has become a common home for many refugees. However, this area was one of the hardest hit by the flooding after a dike collapsed. Over 26,000 residents from Sarandi, now with their homes underwater, are living in various shelters around the city. Many had to leave everything behind to escape the rising waters, losing important documents in the process, which has caused additional problems for the immigrants.

One such person is Carina Gonzalez, a 27-year-old Venezuelan. When she fled her home, which was filling with chest-deep water, she had to make a tough decision. Her husband told her to either let go of her backpack or leave their dog behind. She chose to save the dog, leaving her backpack, which contained important documents for her and her 11-year-old daughter, behind. “We are foreigners, and we can’t do anything without our documents,” Carina said.

Silvia Sander, an official with the UNHCR, highlighted the challenges faced by refugees who lost their documents. “Many people have lost their documents, including their migration papers and provisional IDs. These will need to be reissued to ensure they do not remain undocumented in Brazil,” she explained.

Carina and her husband Xavier are currently staying in a shelter, but they are concerned about their future. Although their jobs are secure for now, getting to work is a challenge due to the flooded streets in the city center. Carina and Xavier crossed into Brazil in 2018, escaping the political tensions and economic crisis in Venezuela. Now, they find themselves in a difficult situation once again due to the floods. “We don’t even know where we are going. We have no destination right now,” said Xavier.

To provide a better understanding of the situation, let’s delve deeper into the various aspects of the refugees’ experiences and challenges in simple terms:

Background of the Refugees

  • Haitian Refugees: Many Haitians, like Reginald Descilong, left their country after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. They sought safety and a chance to rebuild their lives in Brazil.
  • Venezuelan Refugees: Venezuelans, such as Carina and Xavier, fled their country due to political instability and economic hardships. They moved to Brazil looking for better opportunities and a more stable life.

Life in Brazil Before the Floods

  • Finding Stability: Once in Brazil, many refugees managed to find stable jobs and start rebuilding their lives. They worked hard to integrate into Brazilian society and provide for their families.
  • Neighborhoods and Communities: The Sarandi neighborhood in Porto Alegre became a common home for many refugees. They built their lives there, forming new communities and support networks.

Impact of the Floods

  • Widespread Destruction: The floods in Rio Grande do Sul have been devastating. Homes were submerged, and many people lost all their belongings.
  • Shelters: Thousands of people, including refugees, are now living in shelters. These temporary accommodations provide safety but also come with many uncertainties.

Loss of Important Documents

  • Challenges of Losing Documents: For refugees, losing documents such as ID cards, migration papers, and work permits is a significant setback. Without these, they face legal and bureaucratic challenges.
  • Need for Reissuance: There is an urgent need to reissue these documents to ensure that refugees can continue to live and work legally in Brazil.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

  • Recurring Trauma: Many refugees, like Reginald, feel like they are constantly running from one disaster to another. This continuous cycle of trauma takes a heavy toll on their mental health.
  • Uncertainty about the Future: The floods have left many refugees uncertain about their future. They do not know where they will live or how they will rebuild their lives once again.

Support and Assistance

  • Role of UNHCR: The UNHCR is working to support refugees by helping them get new documents and providing other forms of assistance.
  • Community and Government Support: Local communities and the Brazilian government are also playing a role in offering support to those affected by the floods.

The Path Forward

  • Rebuilding Lives: Despite the challenges, refugees like Reginald, Carina, and Xavier are determined to rebuild their lives. They are resilient and hopeful, even in the face of adversity.
  • Continued Support: There is a need for continued support from humanitarian organizations, the government, and the local community to help refugees recover and thrive.

In conclusion, the refugees in southern Brazil are facing immense challenges due to the recent floods. Having already fled from severe hardships in their home countries, they now have to start over once more. Despite the difficulties, their resilience and determination shine through, as they seek to rebuild their lives with the support of the community and humanitarian organizations.


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