Even at a time when we strive to overcome our own difficulties, Brazil welcomes with open arms all refugees who wish to live and work in the country.
The refugee crisis in the Middle East and North Africa — which reached dramatic proportions over the last few days — has been dragging on for more than four years, especially with the onset of civil war in Syria and the military intervention in Libya.
The horrible picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the dead boy found on a Turkish beach, or the gruesome discovery of 71 men, women and children who died by asphyxiation inside a truck on a road in Austria are examples of large scale tragedies that challenge all of humanity.
The Syrian conflict has already caused over 240,000 casualties, four million refugees — most of them in neighboring countries — and eight million displaced people inside the country. It is repulsive to witness all the human and material destruction in Syria and neighboring countries, including world heritage sites.
Iraq and Syria have become the launching pad for criminal groups, such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which spreads terror among war-stricken populations, causing the destruction of their home countries. These groups commit mass murder, recruit children for armed conflict, and brutally impose their sectarian convictions on the local populations.
The geopolitical aspects of the conflicts must not conceal such an enormous humanitarian tragedy, in the face of which the international community, and especially the United Nations, must no longer remain idle. This topic must feature prominently in the opening session of the UN General Assembly, on Tuesday, September 15, 2015, in New York. First of all, however, a move towards solidarity is urgently required.
It is comforting to see that — despite the presence of xenophobic groups — broad segments of the population in many European countries are welcoming refugees and pressuring their government to act on their behalf.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and the proliferation of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, the Brazilian government has offered humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees, who have already been granted 7,752 of these visas. More than 2000 Syrians have received refugee status. I ordered that this effort be expanded. After all, a country where more than 10 million of its citizens are of Syrian and Lebanese descent cannot do otherwise.
I extend my congratulations to the commander of the corvette, the Barroso, of Brazilian navy for saving more than 200 refugees from a boat sailing adrift in the Mediterranean.
While respecting human rights, Brazil is a welcoming land. In addition to its peoples, Brazilians are descendant from immigrants of many backgrounds. Millions of our African brothers were forcibly brought here during the shameful slave trade. The indigenous peoples, Europeans, Africans, and Asians shaped the Brazilian nation.
When major crises struck Europe and the Middle East, Brazil opened its doors to everyone. We are aware of the importance of these contributions to our historical and cultural formation, and take pride in the fact that we are a people shaped by diversity. This is why tolerance and respect for differences are important features of our identity.
It is in this spirit that we have recently welcomed more than 60,000 Haitian citizens since 2010, and we will continue to do so legally and through measures of solidarity. At the same time, we condemn criminal groups, such as the so-called “coyotes,” which traffic in human lives in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, and exploit the despair of thousands of families who flee war and poverty in their hope for a better future.
Even while striving to overcome its own difficulties, Brazil welcomes refugees with open arms. I reiterate the Brazilian government’s readiness to receive those who, after being expelled from their homeland, wish to live and work in Brazil, and to make their contribution towards peace and prosperity. We want to offer you this hope.
Dilma Rousseff is the president of Brazil.