In Brazil “Pana” Initiative Supports Over 300 Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants Amid COVID-19

Migrants stranded in Brazil receive IOM support. Photo: Cáritas 

Rosa and her family were helped by Pana at the beginning of the pandemic. Photo: Personal collection

Brasília – Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 355 Venezuelans refugees and migrants –as well as other migrants from elsewhere – have been supported by the new phase of “Pana,” an initiative by Caritas Brazil, launched jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In different Brazilian localities, IOM and Caritas are providing food, safe housing, hygiene and personnel items. The partners also are offering assistance with socio-economic integration.  

For the last two years, Pana Brazil has supported the relocation of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in different Brazilian cities. However, due to the pandemic, some aspects of the initiative have been adapted to maintain the assistance to the most vulnerable.  

In recent months, refugees and migrants stranded due to the entry restrictions implemented to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus—also have been provided with food and accommodation in Acre, a Brazilian state on the border with Peru.  

Additionally, vulnerable families affected by the economic consequences of the global health emergency are also reached by Pana in the states of São Paulo, Rondônia, Santa Catarina, and the Federal District, where they are provided with temporary accommodations and cash assistance to purchase food. Depending on their incomes and the number of family members to be provided for, grants of between USD 130 and USD 215 per month for three months also are given.   

“This assistance is essential for hundreds of people in each city where Pana is being implemented. Caritas Brazil and IOM Brazil had to adjust the project after the pandemic to provide support to those families directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19,” explained Guilherme Otero, project coordinator at IOM Brazil.  

“With Pana’s project,” he added, “we also support the socio-economic integration of many vulnerable families.”  

The name of the programme is inspired in the Venezuelan word “pana”, which means “friend”, and reflects the spirit of partnership that IOM and Caritas seek to promote among refugees and migrants and their host communities.  

With the support of Pana, Venezuelan Rosa H. received housing and financial assistance early in the pandemic. Rosa, who currently lives in Brasilia with her husband and two children, produces handicrafts to sell. But with social distancing measures, sales of the couple’s wares have dropped.  

“The benefit came at an opportune time when the pandemic started, and we were unable to work,” explained Rosa. “The accommodation was a good place to live and there was harmony among all the beneficiaries.” Rosa now manages to rent her home on her own.  

The Pana project also provides support via a multidisciplinary team working in the psychosocial and legal fields. The team members help Venezuelans, for example, regularize their migratory documents in Brazil.  

Other support mechanisms include job placement and guidance on writing resumes. With the support of the programme, 19 refugees and migrants managed to return to the labour market. A three-week sewing course also was offered to women in São Paulo as a way to strengthen potential skills to help job seekers gain employment.  

The “Houses of Rights” – welcoming spaces in the cities where Pana is presently maintained – provide remote assistance during the pandemic.    

Wemmia Santos, a Pana social worker in Brasilia, believes “the project, in addition to the support, guidance, and guarantees of assistance, provides a dimension of dignity to these people. Because, once we guarantee rights, we have taken many steps towards the effective integration of migrants in our society.”  

In addition to Temporary Accommodation and the Houses of Rights, Pana was also able to support 119 migrants of different nationalities, including Venezuelans, in Acre. They were in transit to Peru but were unable to continue their journeys due to the closure of borders caused by the health crisis.  

Caritas Brazil, through its network in the state, started offering food to migrants at the border in July, especially in the city of Assis.   

“Pana’s actions were a great help to migrants who were unable to enter Peru due to the border closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the resources made available, we were able to offer three meals a day for migrants who were in three different cities,” said Aurinete Brasil, an advisor to Caritas in the Rio Branco Diocese.   

This initiative is possible thanks to the financial support of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the Department of State of the United States.   

For more information please contact Juliana Hack at IOM Brazil, Tel: +55 61 3771 3772, Email: