In 2015, an economic, political and social crisis started in Venezuela, progressively leading to one of the largest current migration flows in the world. By November 2018, approximately 3 million people had left Venezuela , mostly towards neighbouring South American countries. In Brazil, nearly 117,000 Venezuelans have sought asylum or residency mainly in Roraima and Amazonas states. In this context, a partnership between the Brazilian Federal and Local Governments, the Brazilian Armed Forces, UN agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations has been established in response to the unprecedented humanitarian needs linked with the rapid influx of migrants and asylum seekers into northern Brazil.
After crossing the border into Brazil, Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers often find themselves in a new environment with distinct legislation, culture and language, which makes receiving essential information about their rights of great importance to their ability to meet their basic needs. Since May 2018, REACH has conducted a number of assessments in Brazil, with findings indicating an overall lack of precise and reliable information about legal rights amongst migrants and asylum seekers, potentially exposing them to increased risks of exploitation (i.e. violations of labour rights) and marginalisation, as well as impact on access to basic services such as education, healthcare and shelter. In support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and partners, REACH conducted this information needs assessement with the objective of evaluating the current information sources, main information needs and preferred information channels for Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers in Roraima state and Manaus city, in order to assist humanitarian actors with improving communication with communities.
Boa Vista, other towns within Roraima state and Manaus city were (specifically) chosen due to the high concentration of Venezuelans in those areas. A mixed data collection methodology was applied to gather both quantitave and qualitative information. From 1 October to 7 November 2018, 660 heads of households (representing 3,366 individuals) were interviewed and 19 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with 130 participants were conducted across the asessed areas. Since the assessment was conducted in a limited geographical area and with specific population groups – people living in Boa Vista rented/shared/owned accommodation, Boa Vista vulnerable shelters, Boa Vista formal shelters, Pacaraima neighbourhoods, other Roraima towns and Manaus City neighbourhoods, findings can only be generalized, with a 95% level of confidence and 10% margin of error, to these localities and groups, and not to other areas of Brazil, nor to managed shelters in Manaus and Pacaraima.
Overall, approximately 75% of migrants and asylum seekers relied on informal information sources, in some cases leading to misunderstandings, and consequently to frustration as reported by interviewees and FGD participants. Participants reported that word of mouth from other Venezuelans and Brazilians and, for some topics, unofficial social media were the main reported channels in which information could be misinterpreted, leading to a general lack of precise knowledge on the different topics assessed. Only a small proportion (approximately 20%) of migrants and asylum seekers reported receiving reliable information from Religious Institutions, NGOs, UN Agencies and the Brazilian Federal Police, demonstrating that the reach of the communication channels adopted by these actors remained limited.
According to FGD participants, migrants and asylum seekers rely on informal channels not due to the fact that they considered them trustworthy, but rather as a result of the perception that official and reliable information was difficult to find and was not reaching their communities. Some participants noted frustration about having to rely on informal channels, which reportedly requires resources and at times leads to frustration and a sense of hopelessness due to misinformation or miscommunication. On the other hand, participants who had knowledge about where to seek support also reported frustration about having contacted humanitarian actors who could not provide the requested assistance.
In general, migrants and asylum seekers reported a desire for an increase in the quantity and quality of communication channels from official sources in order to improve the reliability of information and access to official mechanisms for protecting their legal rights. When asked which sources they considered the most reliable, FGD participants cited UN Agencies, NGOs and Religious Institutions. However, these reportedly trustworthy sources were considered centralised and limited to specific groups and catchment areas. As alternatives to improve reliable information dissemination, FGD participants suggested the implementation of decentralized information centres in their communities, especially those outside Boa Vista, the identification of community focal points trained by humanitarian organizations, regular community lectures from representatives of these organizations, dissemination through official social media groups, and the implementation of an online information platform and more printed materials, particularly in Spanish. A preference for receiving information directly from humanitarian representatives reaching out to them was pronounced over more “impersonal” channels such as leaflets, posters and through online platforms. This potentially represents their desire for a community based approach, to provide information services in local areas, providing reliable information without the need to access centralised information networks.
As a consequence of the centralised information system observed during the period of data collection, there were, for example, ongoing information needs regarding legal registration as nearly four out of five households (77%) either were unaware of or only partially knew the differences between the registration types. Migrants and asylum seekers were at increased protection risk as three-quarters of households (74%) did not know how to access legal support in case their rights were violated and there was an overall lack of precise and reliable information on how to access livelihood opportunities (and knowledge about labour rights) and basic services such as education, healthcare, shelter and humanitarian assistance. 76% of households reported having at least one member working, mainly in informal odd jobs, though 89% of them reported having at least one member looking for a better opportunity and 71% reported being unaware of their labour rights. Overall, 55% of school age children were not attending school and 26% of households were in need of healthcare but were unable to access it by the time of data collection. The vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers were living outside formal shelters (74%) and in need of humanitarian assistance, since two thirds of households reported not having received any assistance (i.e. food, non-food items and cash-based interventions) in the 30 days prior to the interview.
FGD participants reported across geographic areas that all sub-groups of Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers (i.e. women, indigenous persons, elderly, etc.) face similar levels of difficulty in obtaining reliable information, though some participants mentioned specific characteristics that added additional barriers to certain groups: the elderly—due to limited independence and language barrier; indigenous populations—due to language barrier and educational level; women with small children—due to difficulties in finding caretakers to allow them more mobility in searching for livelihoods opportunities and assistance; the homeless—due to discrimination and general lack of resources and assistance available; and people without access to internet, which reportedly limits search and communication possibilities.
The level of knowledge about specific topics varied geographically between assessed areas and also between different population groups within Boa Vista. For instance, more than half of the households interviewed in other Roraima towns (55%), Boa Vista vulnerable shelters (54%) and Boa Vista formal shelters (53%) did not know the differences between the legal registration types available (i.e. temporary residency and asylum request), while in Manaus and Pacaraima the proportion was 38% and 33% respectively. Lack of knowledge on where to seek support in case of rights violation was high, especially among households in Boa Vista vulnerable shelters (83%), Boa Vista formal shelters (81%), other Roraima towns (80%) and Boa Vista rented/owned/shared accomodation (79%); in Manaus it was 65% and Pacaraima 60%. Regarding the lack of knowledge about labour rights, Boa Vista vulnerable shelters, other Roraima towns and Boa Vista formal shelters presented the highest levels (87%, 80% and 78%, respectively) with Pacaraima presenting the lower but still considerably high proportion (64%). Overall, migrants and asylum seekers living in Roraima state’s countryside and in Boa Vista vulnerable and formal shelters were the population groups with least knowledge about most of the topics assessed.
Findings of this information needs assessment have shown a general lack of reliable and precise information about different topics that are directly linked to Venezuelan migrants’ and asylum seekers’ basic rights, despite efforts from all humanitarian actors involved in the crisis response.