Life & Leisure

Brazil using Rio Carnival parades to integrate refugees

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Apr 14 (EFE).- Parading with one of the samba schools in the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, a dream of millions of Brazilians that some foreigners are accomplishing by paying significant sums, will become a reality next week for a group of refugees thanks to an initiative seeking to facilitate their integration into Brazilian society.

Twenty refugees from Venezuela, Angola, Morocco, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria living in Rio on Friday, April 22, will participate in the Salgueiro parade, one of the city’s most popular samba schools, which will put on its show in the Sambodrome as part of this year’s Carnival celebration.

Their participation in Brazil’s biggest festival is the result of an association between the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Salgueiro to “sent a message of the inclusion, diversity and resistance of minorities,” spokespeople for the multilateral organization told EFE.

And the selection of Salgueiro as a partner in the project is not unfounded since the samba school from Rio’s Andarai district, the winner of nine Carnival titles as best samba school, will bring to the Sambodromo a parade highlighting the resistance, resilience and achievements of the city’s African-Brazilian population.

“I feel completely represented by the story of Salgueri because just the fact of having abandoned my country to be here is an act of resistance and because we’ve needed to struggle a lot to resist everything that we’ve experienced here,” Filomena Ester Eduardo Diassonoama, a 22-year-old Angolan and one of the Angolans who will take part in the parade, told EFE.

The aim of the UNHCR is to help refugees integrate themselves into Brazilian society and culture, and there’s nothing better to accomplish that than to make them a part of the country’s largest party, as well as to raise the awareness of Brazilians that, despite their diversity, these foreigners share their dreams, their problems and their needs.

“Participating in the parade is a great experience because we can show that we, too, have difficulties, that we suffer from prejudice. As refugees, we have fewer opportunities. We’re disparaged, especially since we’re black,” the Angolan student said.

“Despite the fact that it’s not my language and I still don’t speak Portuguese well, I feel confident to be in the parade, as if we were part of the same family,” Venezuelan Marilin Maria Calanche Lugo, 25, who nine months ago left Ciudad Bolivar with her husband and children to seek better opportunities in Brazil, told EFE.

According to UNHCR statistics, Brazil has accorded refugee status to some 62,000 foreigners who have fled wars, persecution and socio-economic crises in about 50 countries, with most of them coming from Venezuela (78 percent), Syria (7 percent) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7 percent).

The 20 selected refugees, who had to learn to dance the samba, have been participating in Salgueiro’s weekly rehearsals since last month and will parade spread among two of the school’s dance sectors.

“This is a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the cause of refugees in Brazil with a message of inclusion and solidarity. Brazil has a tradition of welcoming people who need international protection and Salgueiro’s (2022) theme deals with the Brazilian culture’s African races,” UNHCR representative in Brazil Jose Egas told EFE.

“Despite the fact that (our) story (this year) speaks of black resistance, we’re asking for respect, to be valued and acknowledgement for all minorities, including refugees,” Salgueiro president Andre Vaz said.

The refugees say that participating in the parade is helping them forget, albeit briefly, the difficulties they’re facing.

“You’re distracted and you forget everything at the time you parade, but the problems, the traumas and the concerns about your country and people you left behind don’t disappear,” Calanche said.

“It’s impossible to forget. We’re always worried about fighting to seek better living conditions,” Diassonama added.

EFE cm/ass/rrt/bp

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