Since their arrival in Brazil in 2020, the Rivero family has grown with the birth of more children. The older ones are integrated into the school system. (Giovanni Culmone/Global Solidarity Fund)

By Felipe Herrera-Espaliat, Special Correspondent in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Mar 26 2024

The extensive networking efforts carried out by Catholic institutions with civil society organizations and the Brazilian state ensure that their contributions and opinions are highly valued when addressing the challenges posed by the arrival of migrants.

The Church’s vast experience concerning the situation of migrants across the world is an excellent resource when dealing with the current migration crisis. This is true in Brazil, where various ecclesiastical bodies offer a solid contribution to the state in formulating public policies that address multiple challenges. 

In the municipality of Porto Alegre, in the south of the country, a new migration law was approved last July, benefiting more than 35,000 foreigners living in the city, guaranteeing, among other rights, easier access to healthcare and education. This new legislation was promoted by councilor Roberto Robaina. In his view, “the most important thing is to combat racism and nurture a culture of global fraternity because people came here due to the terrible conditions in their countries, immense social and political crises.”

But in drafting this law, the voices of members of the Porto Alegre City Council were not the only ones to be heard; the valuable contribution of the Permanent Forum on Human Mobility, an entity that coordinates various pro-migrant institutions, was also sought. The Scalabrinian nun, Claudete Rissini, actively participated in the process, emphasizing the need to work together to sensitize the public sector so that these people are recognized as rights-holders. “As Church, we still feel some resistance because there are people who do not want to pay attention or offer a humanized context to migrants,” says Sister Claudete.

The contribution of intercultural mediators

An important outcome of this law was the allocation of funds for the program for intercultural mediators working in the healthcare sector. This team of five individuals from different linguistic backgrounds facilitates migrants’ access to all healthcare services, acting as intermediaries between patients and doctors. They do this not only through language translation but also by decoding the entire medical assistance process to make it truly understandable.

“There has been significant awareness-raising effort on the part healthcare workers to combat xenophobia and racism, to make it clear that no person is illegal and that everyone, whether a citizen or a foreigner, has the right to access healthcare,” explains Rita Buttes, who is in charge at the Municipality of migrant health. 

Amongst the regular beneficiaries of this service are the over forty members of the Rivero family. They are a clan from the Warao tribe in Venezuela, who settled in the Camaquã neighborhood of Porto Alegre in 2020 after leaving their home in Barrancas, a town in the state of Monagas. There, the prices of essential goods skyrocketed, and they struggled to find food and medicine. “We indigenous people go together, we don’t separate. We eat and dance together,” says Rodolfo Rivero, explaining why the entire clan moved 4,700 kilometers to settle in Brazil, where they found much more acceptable living conditions.

Intercultural mediator, Gabriel Lizarraga, has visited the Rivero family several times and has also accompanied some of its members to healthcare centers. “We accompany people to medical clinics to give them confidence because sometimes they feel ashamed, unable to speak or understand Portuguese,” explains Lizarraga. Therefore, the support provided to migrants, whether in Spanish, Haitian Creole, English, or French, helps ensure that no one stops receiving adequate care due to a linguistic or cultural barrier.

Esteio, a model city

Sixteen kilometers north of Porto Alegre lies Esteio, a city with just over eighty thousand inhabitants, currently headed by a young Mayor who has promoted significant reception measures for migrants. While in nearby cities, foreigners are perceived as a threat, in Esteio, the population looks positively upon migrants, especially appreciating their contribution as laborers that strengthen the workforce. Their integration has been so successful that Spanish is now taught in public schools, allowing Brazilians to enrich themselves with the new citizens’ most common language.

“We have good partners, many public organizations and civil society organizations contributing to this work, and there is also community commitment. The community understands the importance of this activity and contributes in various ways, both through volunteering and donations, and by participating in initiatives to create jobs,” emphasizes Mayor Leonardo Pascoal.

Espacio Mundo is one of the many projects implemented in the municipality of Esteio to promote and strengthen migrant inclusion. In a specially dedicated space, the migrants can carry out their activities and receive guidance to access municipal services. Moreover, with the aim of creating strategic alliances, starting from Espacio Mundo, they are connected with dozens of other institutions. Standing out amongst them is Cibai, a center run by the Scalabrinian religious order and that has been dedicated to migrants in Porto Alegre for over seventy years. They know how important it is to address the challenges posed by migration with efficient coordination among all entities trying to welcome and integrate migrants.

“We Scalabrinians, who have the charism of living and working for migrants, try to involve other organizations, both ecclesiastical and civil society and governments,” explains Father Alexandre De Nardi, Regional Superior of the Scalabrinians for South America. Thus, by combining public, private, and ecclesiastical efforts, everyone has come to understand that, despite having similar goals, strength is not obtained by competing but by sharing the sole mission of responding to the immense human mobility that challenges the world today.

This report was created in collaboration with the Global Solidarity Fund. – Vatican News