Majority of Brazilians believe government should have more policies to receive migrants

In the month when World Refugee Day (June 20) is celebrated, Conectas is releasing the results of a new survey conducted in partnership with Datafolha, which reveals that 61% agree that the State should provide more support to people who come to Brazil from abroad

Refugiados venezuelanos embarcam em um avião da Força Aérea Brasileira, com destino a Manaus e São Paulo, no aeroporto de Boa Vista, estado de Roraima, norte do Brasil, em 4 de maio de 2018. (Foto: EVARISTO SA / AFP) Refugiados venezuelanos embarcam em um avião da Força Aérea Brasileira, com destino a Manaus e São Paulo, no aeroporto de Boa Vista, estado de Roraima, norte do Brasil, em 4 de maio de 2018. (Foto: EVARISTO SA / AFP)

Most Brazilians (61%) think that the national government should have more policies and services in place for vulnerable migrants. This is one of the main findings of the brand new survey “Opinions on Migrations” conducted by the polling firm Datafolha together with Conectas.

In addition to wanting more public policies for migrants, 39% of people interviewed believe that the country should receive more people from other countries and the majority (70%) think that migrants should have access to public services such as health and education, in addition to welfare benefits and social security. Brazilians responded that migrants bring more benefits than problems, especially for the country’s culture, and agreed that no human being can be illegal and that deportation should only occur in cases provided for by law and with the right to a defense.

However, the survey also found that the Brazilian population recognizes that migrants from poor countries are more likely to have a bad experience and that the factor that most influences the type of reception they receive is race and skin color. The results of the survey reveal the two faces of migration in Brazil, explained the lawyer Raissa Belintani, coordinator of the Strengthening Democratic Space program at Conectas: the country’s humanitarian position, on the one hand, and the persistence of discrimination and xenophobia, on the other.

“Brazil, in general, has a more humanitarian vision. However, when we look more closely into some issues, we can see disagreements and, in everyday life, still quite a lot of xenophobia. Obviously, our policy is not as restrictive on rights as those in the United States or Europe. We have good legislation, because it is based on human rights, although it still needs a lot of progress and improvements,” said the expert.  

In January 2023, Brazil returned to the Global Compact for Migration, a commitment signed by 164 countries that establishes a common approach to managing migration with an emphasis on human rights, such as more accurate collection and disclosure of data on migration flows and the guarantee of basic services for all migrants. The country had left the agreement in 2019, during the government of former President Jair Bolsonaro, on the grounds that it threatened national sovereignty. In addition to returning to the Compact, the new federal administration is preparing a National Policy on Migration, Asylum and Statelessness and intends to listen to civil society in a public consultation. 

More policies for migrants

The opinion that the government should have more policies for receiving migrants was predominant in all groups that responded to the survey: men and women, people with all levels of education and respondents from all the five regions of the country. The percentage of people who defend more action from the government to help migrants is even greater in the 60-plus age group, among people from the Southern region of the country, for residents of state capitals and metropolitan regions and among those who earn more than five times the monthly minimum wage.

Despite supporting more action, 31% consider that Brazilian government policies for vulnerable migrants are good or very good, compared to 18% who said they are bad or very bad.

Today, the legislation underpinning public policies for migrants is the Migration Law, enacted in 2017. Experts in the field consider it an improvement over the previous legislation, the Foreigner Act, a law from the 1980s that bore the hallmarks of authoritarianism from the military regime. However, the pandemic and a series of measures taken by the Bolsonaro government weakened the Migration Law and the Lula government is expected to improve the rules that regulate it, explained Belintani. 

“The current law has very good principles, but we need a more objective direction for them. The decree that regulates the law (9,199/2017) includes several contradictory points. It contains, for example, a provision for migrants to be arrested for their immigration status, even though the law specifies non-criminalization. It also includes words such as ‘clandestine’ and ‘foreigner’, which were abolished in the law and are very xenophobic. And, above all, it raises many questions about the discretion of the agents who enforce the legislation,” she said.

In February 2023, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security launched a Working Group to discuss the creation of a migration policy in Brazil, with the participation of various civil society organizations, including Conectas, and migrants. The challenges that the country needs to overcome, say experts, include crafting a specific public policy for displaced indigenous people, for whom the concept of a border may be different from what is provided for in law, and standardizing the issuance of visas at the various Brazilian embassies.

The Bolsonaro government also left a trail of difficulties. “Things got significantly worse, because several ministerial orders were issued, especially during the pandemic, which closed borders and punished people who attempted to enter the country after the suspension of asylum requests, for example. Even before the pandemic, one ministerial order by the then Minister Sérgio Moro provided for the deportation of people considered dangerous and was highly subjective, since suspicion that a person had committed a crime was enough for them to be deported, which runs counter to the presumption of innocence,” said the lawyer. 

Majority think Brazil has more migrants than it actually has

The survey reveals that Brazilians believe that there are more migrants in the country than there actually are. For the majority of respondents (56%), more than 10% of Brazil’s population is formed by migrants. According to data from the Federal Police, however, it is estimated that up to 1.2% of people living in Brazil are migrants. For 65% of respondents, the cities where they live have lots of people from other countries living there, a response that was even more frequent in the group of respondents from the Southern region. Nearly four out of ten respondents said they interact on a daily basis with people from other countries.

Migration can contribute to the improvement of public services in regions where it is most intense, according to the executive secretary of the organization Cáritas Diocesana in the state of Roraima, Ronildo Rodrigues. The organization has projects to receive migrants, in particular Venezuelans, in the north of the country. 

A report published in 2022 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the polling firm Pólis Pesquisa reveals that just over half of Venezuelan refugees and migrants have a high school education and 25.6% have vocational qualifications or a higher education degree in fields such as education, business administration and engineering. Nevertheless, on average they earn less than Brazilians. The study focuses on the city of Manaus, in the state of Amazonas, but Rodrigues notes that the state of Roraima also benefits from migrants. “The state of Roraima acquired a technical labor force. Then there are the jobs that migration has generated in the hotel industry, due to the number of people who, because of migration, have come to report on the issue and those from international agencies and other organizations. Not to mention the military personnel, who spend six-month shifts in the state and consume here,” said Belintani.

A study published in 2020 by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) found that the Roraima state economy benefited from migration: the retail sector and exports both increased state sales tax receipts by 25% between the end of 2018 and early 2019, for example.  

Brazilians notice increase in migration 

In the opinion of Brazilians, the number of migrants has increased in recent years. Eight out of ten respondents believe that the number has grown, with almost five out of ten saying the number of migrants has increased a lot over the past five years. In contrast, only 4% think migration has slowed.

According to data from the annual migration reports of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the number of asylum requests in Brazil has grown significantly since 2018. To have an idea, in 2020, 26,000 people had their refugee status recognized in the country; prior to 2018, the number was less than 5,000 annually.

Despite having noticed that the number of migrants has increased, Brazilians still believe the country should receive more people. For 39% of respondents, the country should receive more migrants from other countries, while 24% think the number should be reduced. Meanwhile, 26% think the country should continue to receive the same number of migrants, without an increase or reduction. The respondents who said Brazil should stop receiving migrants are in the minority, at just 5%.

The majority of people who responded to the poll (66%) believe that migrants in this period came primarily from poor countries. When asked about their nationality, the most frequent answer was Venezuelans (39%). After Venezuela, respondents said that migrants come from Angola, Bolivia, South Africa and Haiti. 

No human being can be illegal, agree majority of Brazilians

“All migrants should be welcomed, regardless of race, religion, gender, language or nationality” – eight out of ten Brazilians agree with this statement, according to the survey “Opinions on Migrations”. Full support for the statement was even greater among women than men and also among people with schooling up to primary education than those who had studied longer.

Meanwhile, seven out of ten people agree that migrants should have the same rights and duties as Brazilians and have access to public services such as health and education, in addition to welfare benefits such as the “Renda Brasil” cash transfer program and social security. This opinion also has more support among women and people with primary education.

Moreover, seven out of ten agree that, in addition to receiving people seeking protection or a better standard of living in the country, Brazil needs to create public policies for the inclusion of migrants in our society. And a similar percentage (75%) think that if migrants work, pay taxes and have a fixed residence in Brazil, they should have the right to vote. And most respondents (68%) agree with the statement: “no human being can be illegal”.

Almost seven out of ten respondents (69%) fully or partially agree that closing borders does not prevent migration, but only subjects migrants to dangerous and more vulnerable situations. A slightly higher percentage (75%) said that deportations should only occur in ways provided for by law, and that the right to a defense should be respected. Six out of ten (59%) agree that stopping access to asylum is an illegal measure that would tarnish Brazil’s international reputation.

The survey conducted by Datafolha and Conectas interviewed 1,000 Brazilians aged 18 or older across the country in July and August 2022. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

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