On Thursday, February 25, Conectas and Missão Paz filed a representation petition with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office requesting an investigation into the discriminatory closure of land borders for refugees coming from Venezuela.
Documents produced by Anvisa (National Health Regulatory Agency) reveal that there was no guidance from the regulator to put segregated bans on the entry of people to Brazil from border countries during the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The documents were sent to Conectas in response to a technical opinion produced by Cepedisa (Center for Research on Health Law of the University of São Paulo) and addressed to the agency in December last year. The study demonstrated that the restrictions imposed by the federal government through decrees published over the course of 2020 are not based on legal or health grounds.
In response to the technical opinion, the agency declared that “there are no recommendations to segregate any border country”. However, the current decree issued by the federal government (no. 652, of January 25, 2021) places restrictions on migrants coming from Venezuela. The decree also imposes restrictions on people from the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and South Africa, but in these cases due to the new strains of the coronavirus.
According to a technical statement from the Coordination Office of Epidemiological Surveillance in Ports, Airports, Borders and Customs Facilities – COVIG, in response to the Official Letter from Conectas, “the restrictions referring to travelers from or who have spent time in the past fourteen days in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Republic of South Africa, were recommended to CCSMI [Crisis Committee for the Supervision and Monitoring of the Impacts of Covid-19] by Anvisa, based on the precautionary principle, due to warnings issued by the WHO regarding the identification of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 in those countries. The restrictions on foreigners from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are not contained in any of the documents presented by Anvisa to support the decision-making process of the aforementioned Committee.”
The agency also released a technical report sent to the ministries with guidance on the entry of migrants into the country during the pandemic as determined by Law No. 13,979/2020.
In addition to Anvisa, Conectas also submitted its letter to the ministries of Justice, Health and Infrastructure, the Office of the Chief of Staff and other government bodies responsible for the restriction.
In response to Conectas, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security stated that “there is no doubt that the inter-ministerial decree in question has legal backing. Furthermore, as the decree made very clear, the rule was preceded by a technical recommendation from Anvisa”.
“It is serious that the Bolsonaro government has ignored the technical guidance of Anvisa and banned the entry of asylum seekers during the pandemic while since July it has allowed tourists into Brazil through airports,” said Camila Asano, program director at Conectas. “This is clear discrimination based on nationality and socioeconomic status, which violates the spirit of the Migration Law”.
Since the publication of the first decree in March 2020, the land border with Venezuela has been closed to migrants. At the time, the government justified the closure based on alleged guidance from Anvisa, which has now been denied by the agency. “As such, the technical reports issued by the Coordination Office of Epidemiological Surveillance in Ports, Airports, Borders and Customs Facilities (COVIG/GGPAF/Anvisa), contain no recommendations to segregate any border country,” said the agency.
Subsequent decrees included and excluded other countries, such as the unrestricted opening of the land border with Paraguay, but the restriction on people coming from Venezuela remained unchanged. Regarding the opening of the land border with Paraguay, Anvisa informed that in one of its technical reports it observed that “the Brazilian government’s position on opening borders must be homogeneous for the whole country, considering that there are no restrictions on interstate travel”.