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On the border between Brazil and Venezuela, safe spaces offer hope and information

On the border between Brazil and Venezuela, safe spaces offer hope and information
UNFPA’s humanitarian response team working at the safe space in Pacaraima, Brazil. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel
  • 14 September 2022

RORAIMA, Brazil – “We’ve been told that our room conveys peace – the room and what is offered in it,” said Harlen Lamar. She is the leader of a UNFPA safe space for women and girls in Pacaraima, a city in northern Brazil that lies just across the border from Venezuela.

Over the past five years, more than 760,000 refugees and migrants fleeing economic and political instability in Venezuela have entered Brazil, with more than 350,000 staying in the country. Triage centres like the one in Pacaraima help new arrivals navigate the migration and asylum request processes and address urgent needs, such as for protection, shelter, food and counselling services. 

Amid the noise, crowds and queues, there is a door marked with the words “Espacio Seguro”. This is the UNFPA safe space – a place where survivors of gender-based violence can come for guidance, care and referrals to local networks of public services as well as resources on sexual and reproductive health.

“The people who arrive here have just entered Brazil. They don’t understand Portuguese, they haven’t eaten properly for a while, they hitchhiked – they are anxious and distressed,”  Ms. Lamar explained. 

At the end of often arduous and lengthy cross-border journeys, new arrivals – especially women and girls – are welcomed at the safe space to find a moment of respite.

A group of UNFPA staff smile for a group photo.
In the safe space, vulnerable women and girls, recently arrived from Venezuela, receive respectful, comprehensive care. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Risking violence to reach Brazil

While comprehensive data are unavailable, research and news reports have indicated Venezuelan women face threats of gender-based violence as they seek out better lives on the other side of the border.

To address these rights violations, UNFPA maintains three safe spaces across the northern Brazilian cities of Pacaraima, Boa Vista and Manaus, where staff work to identify instances of gender-based violence, offer case-management support and refer survivors to corresponding public services. Teams also work with survivors to build safety plans and monitor cases until their resolution.

“UNFPA’s humanitarian response in the north of Brazil is important to guarantee the rights of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, especially women and girls,” said Igo Martini, who heads the UNFPA office in Roraima.

In addition to sexual and repoductive health advice and gender-based violence support, the space accommodates breastfeeding mothers and provides free condoms and educational videos and games. Everyone is welcome, and the door is always open.

“Thousands of vulnerable people have benefited,” Mr. Martini said. 

A safe place to open up

Displacement is often accompanied by pain, frustration and trauma. Many at the triage centre are also coping with the stigma associated with gender-based violence or health conditions such as living with HIV. 

To help those seeking support, the safe space is careful to offer its services with discretion and respect and without judgment. 

For some, this makes all the difference. “During an appointment, one woman mentioned her HIV diagnosis,” Ms. Lamar recalled. “She put both hands on the table and said, ‘You are the first person so far who has looked at me, so I felt safe to open up’ – I think this is what sets us apart.”

As Venezuelans face ongoing threats to their safety – from a lack of essentials such as food and medicine to political and socioeconomic crisis – UNFPA will continue its critical work of providing new arrivals to Brazil a safe place to rest and recover.

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