Brazil changes admission policy for Afghans and no longer wants to be a gateway for the USA

Sao Paulo

The Brazilian government announced a change to the humanitarian admission policy for Afghans, arguing that Brazil has established itself as a gateway for immigrants fleeing the fundamentalist Taliban regime trying to emigrate to the United States via dangerous and therefore sometimes deadly routes .

The regulation published this Tuesday (26) stipulates that from October onwards, Afghans will only be granted visas if the availability of accommodation to accommodate them is proven which would happen through cooperation agreements between civil society organizations and the state.

The change comes months after a scabies outbreak among immigrants from the Central Asian country living at São Paulo International Airport in Guarulhos. The health crisis, a result of the lack of places in emergency shelters, has increased criticism of the reception of Afghans.

But the change published this Tuesday sparked concerns among activists and migration experts.

The measure is similar to a criticized mechanism in American migration policy: the “sponsor”, a requirement that the migrant must prove in advance that they have an employer or a place to stay in the destination country in order to apply for a visa.

National Justice Minister Augusto de Arruda Botelho explains that the change aims to improve the reception of Afghans who still do not have a solid base in Brazil as is the case with Venezuelans and Angolans and still face a language barrier .

“We recognized that the Afghan characteristics make reception more difficult and that we are indirectly putting these people at risk,” he says. “I prefer that those who receive the visa really integrate into our country, with reception, employment and Portuguese lessons through the work of organizations, and not just open the border and put the lives of these people at risk.”

The idea, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and Itamaraty argued in a statement, is that linking visa issuance to the availability of vacancies promotes planned and safe reception.

Brazil’s internationally praised migration policy, nicknamed “open doors” because of its broad admission mechanism, has become a source of concern for organizations in this sector. Experts are watching the redefinition of Brazil, which is no longer a tourist destination and is becoming a gateway for those wanting to cross the American continent towards the United States on an often deadly journey.

This scenario can be seen in the case of the Afghans, who have emigrated en masse since the Taliban came to power in August 2021 and established an Islamic fundamentalist regime that particularly suppressed the rights of women. From September this year to last August, Brazil issued nearly 9,400 humanitarian visas to Afghans, a mechanism that expedites their emigration approval.

According to the United Nations and OBMigra, the International Migration Observatory, 8,651 Afghan immigrants entered Brazil during this period. But almost 20% of them 1,632 have also left the country. The main ports of departure are Oiapoque in Amapá and Assis Brasil in Acre, important points on the migration route that is supposed to lead overland across the Atlantic Ocean to North America or even the European Union.

According to Minister Arruda Botelho, these figures do not reflect the entire reality. He states that about half of the Afghans who enter Brazil emigrate shortly afterwards. The underreporting is due, among other things, to the fact that many countries leave through points on the land border where there is no statistical control.

And the path that these immigrants took from then on also left records on the continent. Since the beginning of 2022 months after the return of the Taliban and the first arrival of Afghans in Brazil this group has formed the flow of refugees crossing the Darién Strait, the socalled “Jungle of Death” between Panama and Colombia.

Afghans are the ninth most important nationality to cross the jungle from January to August this year: according to official figures from Panama, there were at least 2,509. At the top of the rankings are still Venezuelans, with a much more significant number 201,000

João Chaves, migration and refugee coordinator at the DPU (Federal Office of Public Defense) in São Paulo, explains that the arguments that serve as the official justification for the rule change are valid. But he says the potential consequences are worrying.

“Care needs to be taken to ensure that this doesn’t become a problemsolving funnel,” he reflects. “The fact that Brazil is a transit country for migrants cannot affect the issuance of visas and the implementation of humanitarian policies.”

Miguel Freire Couy, a volunteer with the Frente Afegã collective, says the change “sweeps the problem under the carpet.” “It is complicated to link humanitarian aid to a public bureaucracy. This will need time. And these people.” [os afegãos] You have no time. Time is a time bomb for them.”

More than 35 NGOs focused on migration, including Conectas Human Rights, Cáritas Arquidiocesana and Missão Paz, also took a position in a public letter published this Wednesday (27), which was presented Sheet.

The organizations say the additional restriction could have unwanted side effects. “It is well known that entry restrictions do not prevent people from leaving their country, but rather expose them to greater situations of exploitation by smuggling networks,” the text says.

Since there is less accommodation than is urgently needed, it is still possible to see Afghans at Guarulhos airport. The Afghan Front, which operates in the region, reports that there were 88 of them last Friday.

Sent in a note to the report, The mayor of Guarulhos, Guti (PSD), says that the city gateway for 98% of Afghans arriving in the country defends the maintenance of humanitarian reception.

Guti also criticizes the fact that the text does not describe any other reception mechanisms. “It is necessary to include the internalization of migrants in order to transfer them to other communities without overburdening one or the other, as is happening today in Guarulhos.”

Another change promoted by the regulation concerns the places where Afghans can apply for a visa. Now the claim can only be submitted to the Brazilian embassies in Tehran (Iran) and Islamabad (Pakistan). Previously it was also possible to request them from embassies in Moscow, Russia; Ankara, Türkiye; Doha, Qatar; and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.