First group of Palestinians arrive in Brazil from desert camp

IRAQ-BRAZIL: First group of Palestinians arrive in Brazil from desert camp

Palestinian children stranded in the isolated Ruwaished refugee camp at the Iraq-Jordan border
SAO PAULO, 23 September 2007 (IRIN) – The first batch of Palestinians previously living in a squalid refugee camp on the Iraqi-Jordanian border arrived in Brazil on 21 and 22 September and has been receiving medical assistance, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Justice.

The 35 Palestinians are part of a group of 117 Palestinian refugees who had been living in Ruwaished refugee camp in the desert on the Iraqi-Jordanian border since the fall of late former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“Brazilians have welcomed with open arms our new arrivals. The population is glad with the government initiative, which hopes to offer a better life to those who have suffered violence in Iraq,” Luiz Paulo Barreto, secretary general at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, told IRIN.

“Palestinians are going to enjoy the same citizenship rights as Brazilians do,” he added. “Next week they will receive ID documents and passports. They will receive monthly financial assistance for two years until they are able to support themselves. They are already being given free health services and they and their children will attend Portuguese classes,” he said.

Cardiologists, paediatricians and gynaecologists have been examining the new arrivals.

The Brazilian Ministry of Justice has an annual budget of some US$365,000 to assist refugees in the country. The funds are transferred to Caritas do Brasil, a non-governmental organization (NGO) which, along with Antônio Vieira Association (AVA), provides assistance to refugees.

Barreto said that the Palestinians are going to be settled in Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, two states on the southern areas of Brazil.

“Now, they are going to be able to behave according to their traditions, to wear their traditional clothes, eat their preferred food and practice their religion without being scared of attacks or reprisals. Brazil is a country of freedom and our new citizens are going to be part of it,” Barreto added.

Two more batches of Palestinians expected

The remaining Palestinians from the Ruwaished refugee camp are scheduled to arrive in Brazil in two additional batches by mid-October and are going to be settled in the same states as the first arrivals but the specific cities have not yet been disclosed.

Marcos Faria, a spokesman for the Refugees Association in Brazil (RAB), said Brazil plans to admit more Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in the coming months.

“We have been receiving letters, especially from Iraqi families, who are threatened in their country and who wish to start a new life in Brazil and we are going to take the issue to the Brazilian government hoping that we can help as many as we can,” Faria said. “Brazil knows how to welcome foreigners and the Arab community in this country is one of the largest worldwide.”

Officials estimate that there are about 12 million Arab residents of Brazil, mostly of Lebanese and Syrian descent.

Luis Varese, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Brazil, said that assistance will be provided to the Palestinians according to their needs and he added that he hopes the country’s initiative will help open the doors of other countries to Palestinians and Iraqis seeking asylum.

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