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A Syrian refugee seizes every opportunity to thrive in his new life In Brazil

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Abdul has come a long way from the conflict in Syria to his new life in Brazil, a journey facilitated by the South American country’s welcoming policy towards refugees and turbocharged by his own determination and joyous embrace of opportunities.

“When I first arrived here, I felt peace and tranquility,” recalled Abdul, a decade on from fleeing his native Syria, which was then in the throes of crisis. Abdul now feels so at home that he declares himself to be “BrazSyrian: Brazilian Syrian!”

Abdul is among more than 4,000 Syrian refugees welcomed by Brazil since it became the first country in the Americas to offer special humanitarian visas to those fleeing Syria in 2013. A simplified asylum process means swift recognition and integration of refugees, who currently number around 140,000 from countries including Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During a visit to Brazil last month, Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, praised the country’s “commitment to inclusive refugee policies”. Brazil, he said, is evidence that, “documentation, asylum and other forms of protection, combined with access to jobs, livelihoods, education and health, are the best way to arrive at solutions.”

Abdul is the embodiment of what those solutions can look like.

After fleeing Syria for neighbouring Lebanon, he heard about Brazil’s humanitarian visa and quickly applied. “When they put the visa in my passport, I started looking at it and thinking about Brazil. This visa guaranteed me a new life. It saved my life,” Abdul said.

Just six months later he was a recognized refugee with official documentation that allowed him to begin building a new life on the other side of the world.

Living in the cosmopolitan megacity of São Paulo, Abdul has learnt to speak fluent Portuguese – albeit with a strong Arabic accent – and works a day job as a legal assistant in the State Public Prosecutor’s Office helping foreigners access documentation and public services. He spends his afternoons running a charity supporting refugees and migrants and giving high school talks about his experiences as a refugee, and in the evening he studies law. In 2022, having become a naturalized Brazilian citizen, Abdul even ran for political office, although he was unsuccessful.

Paying it back

“With the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide at a record high and the right to seek asylum under threat in many parts of the world, Abdul’s journey from war-torn Syria to Brazil demonstrates that granting people access to asylum and international protection is a clear and tangible example of solidarity that, translated into action, saves lives,” said UNHCR Representative in Brazil, Davide Torzilli.

Having been offered – and having seized – so many opportunities himself, Abdul says his ambition now is not to sit back and rest, but to “give a hand to those people who need it” in whatever way he can: by supporting other refugees as well as his new community, and by educating people about refugee issues.

“We need solidarity, empathy and decent public policies to meet our situation,” he said. “I am grateful to this land because it opened doors for me to make a new life, a new story.”

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