Afghan refugees struggle to rebuild lives in Brazil


After the Taliban retook control of their country last year, 1,237 Afghans have received the right to live in Brazil under the government’s normative act authorizing humanitarian visas.

And although they are grateful to be able to rebuild their lives in safety, adapting to the new reality has not been easy.

The problem for many of the Afghans is that Brazil, which is not a high-income country, has been facing economic hardships over the past few years.

The unemployment rate in 2021 was 13.2%, 13% of the population live in extreme poverty, and 55% of Brazilian households endure food insecurity.

“The issuing of the humanitarian visa by the government is a unique help. No other country has been doing it,” said H. J. A., an Afghan university professor who preferred to remain anonymous due to security concerns.

“But when we arrive here, there’s no program to assist us. We don’t have a house, financial help or a job.”

  1. J. A., 31, was a law professor in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. Through social media, he met Brazilian social worker Rafaela Barroso two years ago.

“When the Taliban took over Kabul, I asked him if he needed help and he told me he had to flee Afghanistan. That’s when I began to look for ways to bring him to Brazil,” she told Arab News.

Barroso said from the outset she told him that “Brazil isn’t Europe,” and informed him about the harsh effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy. When he arrived in November 2021, he felt relieved, but new problems soon emerged.

“Portuguese is too different from our national languages, like Dari and Pashto. Besides, many Brazilians can’t speak English, so communication is a problem,” he said.

Barroso said H. J. A. wishes to do a PhD in Brazil, but revalidating his academic documents can take a long time.

“He worked for a while at a halal slaughterhouse in a small city in the countryside, but then he concluded that there he wouldn’t be able to make progress in the right direction,” she added.

Rahmatullah Khwajazada, 27, seems to share many of H. J. A.’s views after having spent about three months in Brazil.

An ethnic Tajik from Kabul, he worked for the National Statistic and Information Authority but lost his job with the Taliban takeover.

He wanted to move to a safe country, so he tried to obtain a visa to go to Germany and Canada. He managed to come to Brazil.

“I’ve been facing much difficulty learning Portuguese, and finding work isn’t easy, but hopefully I’ll be able to rebuild my career in a few years,” he told Arab News.

After living for some time in Sao Paulo, Khwajazada moved to Curitiba, where he hopes to have his documentation approved by the local Pontifical Catholic University. He intends to start a master’s course in international relations next semester.

“My advice to my fellow Afghans is they should try to emigrate to another country if they don’t have savings. It’s very hard to survive in Brazil,” he said.

“But for those who owned a business in Afghanistan and have some money, it’s pretty possible to open a shop here and rebuild life.”

The spokesman in Brazil for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Luiz Fernando Godinho, said: “It’s fundamental that such a population has realistic expectations regarding the support it can receive in Brazil nowadays.”

He added: “It’s a country with a robust social aid system, but it can’t secure housing for everybody, including Brazilians and foreigners.”

Godinho said the UNHCR is working to translate into Pashto and Dari brochures to guide Afghans about their rights and the assistance available in Brazil. (Source: Arab News)