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Brazil Operation: COVID-19 Response, February 2021

Situation Report
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As of 28 February, Brazil reached a total of 10,551,259 confirmed cases and 254,942 deaths from COVID-19, while the vaccination plan against COVID-19 targeted over 7 million people, which represents the 3,3% of the population.

The northern region of Brazil as a whole continued to be severely impacted by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. Amazonas already recorded more COVID-19 deaths in the first two months of 2021 than last year. On 20 February, the Governor of Amazonas, Wilson Lima, extended the night curfew until the end of the month, but progressively allowed the reopening of shopping centres and local businesses at reduced working hours. To support local authorities’ response to the second wave of COVID-19, UNHCR provided 220 beds, 200 mattresses, covers and blankets to the Amazonas’ Health Secretariat which, following the donation in January, contributed to expand public healthcare facilities’ bed capacity by a total of 335 additional units. In addition, more than 1,390 nonfood items were provided to the Municipal Secretariat for Women, Social Assistance and Citizenship to assist the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population during the pandemic. Remote support continues to be provided through a protection hotline that in February enabled 1,569 refugees and migrants from Venezuela to receive direct assistance and referrals to services in order to access documentation, urgent material needs (food and non-food items), financial support, and other protection needs.

On 22 February, the State of Acre declared a state of public calamity, facing the devastating combination of COVID-19 pandemic, an outbreak of dengue fever, and floods that affected 130,000 people in 10 of the State’s municipalities, including the capital. In addition, on 16 February, the attempt of about 450 refugees and migrants, mostly Haitians, who had been stranded for days in the city of Assis Brasil, State of Acre, to cross the border to Iñapari, Peru, caused tensions between the group and the Peruvian Armed Forces, as the Peruvian border remains officially closed due to the pandemic.

Continuous arrivals at the border in Pacaraima accelerated the reactivation of the Nova Canaã shelter on 15 February, in order to receive Indigenous population and help to ease first reception pressure at the BV8 Transit Centre. The emergency response entailed UNHCR’s close coordination with partners and the logistical and humanitarian task force of the army on site planning, in compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures, and NFIs distribution, including mattresses, hygiene and cleaning kits. UNHCR also provided assistance in preparation of the reopening of Tancredo Neves shelter and expansion of non-Indigenous shelters, contributing with installation of additional RHUs and the enhancement of security measures (such as lighting, fences and cameras) at Rondon 3 and Rondon.

On 4 February, the R4V (Response for Venezuelans) Brazil Platform – coordinated by UNHCR and IOM – held a meeting with General Antonio Barros and the representatives of the 47 R4V partner organizations, including UN agencies and civil society organizations. The coordinator of the logistical and humanitarian task force of Operation Welcome, General Barros, presented the latest developments in the humanitarian response for refugees and migrants from Venezuela as well as priority gaps in shelter, health and voluntary internal relocation strategy, requesting the R4V support to complement State’s interventions in these sectors.

From 23 to 25 February, UNHCR supported a mission of the Ombudsperson (Federal Prosecutor for Citizens' Rights – PFDC), Carlos Alberto Vilhena, to several strategic projects and partners in São Paulo to better illustrate efforts and existing challenges in the protection and integration of refugees and migrants in the South-Southeast and throughout Brazil. The Ombudsperson met with UNHCR Representative to discuss refugee issues including the current challenges of the emergency response and the access to documentation for refugees and migrants, which has come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the meeting, both representatives also discussed further cooperation opportunities, including expanding the humanitarian project from Guarulhos Airport to other airports in the country, and strengthening technical cooperation and capacity building opportunities within the federal justice system. The PFDC also visited UNHCR projects at Caritas São Paulo, Missão Paz and Aldeias Infantis, the Sao Paulo Municipality's Reference and Service Center for Immigrants (CRAI), and attended a visit to Guarulhos airport restricted areas accompanied by the Federal Police and other members of the Working Group coordinated by UNHCR. During this period, UNHCR Representative also met with newly elected representatives from the Municipal Secretariats of Human Rights and Citizenship, International Relations, and Social Assistance, to highlight the joint initiatives promoted over the past years and reinforce the collaboration for future initiatives. In addition, a donation agreement was also signed with the municipality of São Paulo, contemplating UNHCR’s support to better equip public service structures supporting refugees and migrants living in the city.