Several thousand people from different parts of the world, particularly the Latin America and Caribbean region, live in Brazil due to their countries’ social, political, and economic crises. Just as an example, according to a 2021 study from the World Bank and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Venezuelan adult immigrants in Brazil are 64% less likely to be working in a formal job. This reality, familiar to many immigrants, hampers their ability to have a decent life.
La Salle University, a member institution of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) in Brazil, has been doing its part to find solutions to the needs raised by those looking for a better life in a new country, particularly those immigrants in a situation of vulnerability. However, for the university, their future depends on opportunities to access knowledge. Therefore, the topic of human mobility needs to occupy more space in academia, incorporating into the curricula current and ‘glocal’ issues.
The initial idea to support the immigrants was proposed at the end of 2017, and it came from external demand through a civil society organization dedicated to providing that assistance. Given the many challenges faced by immigrants, the need for better integration was the key motivation. Such challenges were already knocking on the door of the city of Canoas in the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. What started as a series of informal activities in 2018 was institutionalized in 2019.
The project aims to seek out beneficiaries registered in reception centers and associations that currently have an agreement with the university, such as the Public Defender's Office, the Mayor’s Office of Canoas, and the La Salle Foundation. The overall goal is to foster integration while improving the living conditions of immigrants. This is done through the provision of subsidies to be used for skills development and training. Furthermore, the university also offers them, Portuguese language classes.
In addition to those classes, workshops related to the actual needs of the job market were designed in conjunction with undergraduate academic programs in various fields and the participation of volunteer teachers and trainers. And, due to the complex financial situation in which the students find themselves, especially in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the university provided as well up to last year, bus and train tickets for immigrants to reach the university campus.
“I am going to look for more knowledge now because my ultimate goal is to teach children, my biggest dream is to be an educator and also to give my children a better life,” said Velta Noel Aladin, a student of the Portuguese course and beneficiary of the project. According to the project leaders, “we do not neglect the culture of those who arrived here; on the contrary, we want to provide a non-formal link between our worlds,” they mentioned.
In 2021 the project was reinforced with combined efforts from other university units, such as the undergraduate programs of International Relations and Law, with the support of the Center for International Relations at the Center for Applied Studies in Law and Politics. Once this happened, orientation was given regularly to immigrants concerning the information required for documentation processes that need to be done via the Federal Police website.
Now immigrants who receive the legal paperwork orientation know the relevance of such processes and how to finalize them successfully. In December 2021 alone, over 70 immigrants were assisted by the university with the involvement of students eager to engage more with the community. The university expects to consolidate these efforts and attract more potential beneficiaries while ensuring a more significant linkage with research based on collected data that could shape public policies towards immigrants.