How the city of Sao Paulo is placing refugee perspectives at the heart of its policy

Sao Paulo launches new Municipal Policy Plan for Refugees and Migrants
Local Integration

How the city of Sao Paulo is placing refugee perspectives at the heart of its policy

Sao Paulo launches new Municipal Policy Plan for Refugees and Migrants
29 October 2020
Municipal Plan - Sao Paulo

To develop the first Municipal Plan, Sao Paulo has hosted regular conferences to enable refugees, migrants and civil society to choose and debate the main themes to be included in the final document. ©UNHCR/Miguel Pachioni

Sao Paulo has launched its first Municipal Plan of Public Policies for Refugees and Migrants – a pioneering initiative with refugee inclusion at its heart. Set to be rolled out from 2021 to 2024, the Municipal Plan aims to ensure that public policies are driven to respond to the needs of displaced people living in the city. From the outset, it was developed in close collaboration with refugees and migrants living in the city.

In 2019, Brazil was home to about 363,683 forcibly displaced people. Already one of the most populous and multicultural cities in the world, Sao Paulo received the second largest number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country through the relocation program of the Brazilian Government.

The municipality took its first policy steps to include refugees and migrants in 2013, hosting its first conference on public policies for refugees and migrants. After subsequently introducing the first Municipal Law for Immigration in 2016, the city created the Municipal Council of Immigration (CMI) (2018), an elected body consisting of refugees and migrants. It was created to enable refugees and migrants to take part in the city’s life and participate in political decisions affecting their own lives. Its members represent six different nationalities.

Katumba-Sao Paulo

The Council played an integral role in developing the new Municipal Plan, allowing refugees and migrants to participate in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of the city’s policies. Miguel Pachioni, Public Information Associate for UNHCR Brazil, interviewed Jean Katumba, an elected member of the Council, to discuss the importance of refugee participation.

Katumba, a 41-year-old polytechnic engineer, arrived in Brazil in 2013 after leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo. He fled alone, leaving behind his family and with only 35 USD in his pocket. With the support of UNHCR partners, he got access to shelter and documentation straight away, and now leads an organization set up by and for refugees in São Paulo.

Interview: “The participation of refugees in the shaping of public policies is the most effective way to promote that real integration process.”

What is your role on the Municipal Council of Immigration?

My role is to a build and improve the solid bases that already exist in the municipality to respond to the demands of the refugee population. Due to the fact that I lived in a public shelter with other refugees of different nationalities and professions, and knowing that this city council existed, my participation was like a call to represent each one of us.

How and when do the elections to the Municipal Council of Immigrants take place?

The second election of the council (2020-2022) took place in May this year at six different polling stations spread across the city, in which only refugees and migrants could participate. In total, there were almost 2,000 voters from 51 nationalities.

What has the Council achieved since it was first established?

I would say one of the biggest achievements of the Council is the Municipal Conference [which] was built with full participation of refugees and migrants.

Also, the Municipal Plan that was recently approved is a key achievement, as it represents a guidance for the next municipal mayor to be aware of the main tools of integration that refugees and migrants aim to consolidate. Around 80 proposals were debated and recommended [for the plan], each one representing the effective voice of refugees and migrants who know what needs to be done to settle a better life in the city.

But the Council is not perfect, especially due to the fact that we have two-year mandates, and the continuity of the previous arrangements is not easy.

Why is it important for refugees to take part in shaping the policies that affect them?

No one can be aware of another persons’ wishes, except for the person involved. The perceptions we have, the ideas we aim to implement and the willingness to make it possible are what inspire me to believe that the participation of refugees in the shaping of public policies is the most effective way to promote the real integration process. I congratulate the Municipal Council for also making this effort in order to allow our voices to be heard.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In brief: The Municipal Plan for Refugees and Migrants

Consistent with the Global Compact on Refugees, the structural axes of the Municipal Plan include:   


  • Participation of refugees in proposing and influencing public policies
  • Access to social assistance and housing
  • Valuing and encouraging cultural diversity
  • Protecting human rights and combating xenophobia and other forms of discrimination
  • Access to rights and services for women and LGBTI+ population
  • Promotion of decent work, generation of jobs and income and professional qualifications
  • Access to comprehensive education, Portuguese classes and respect for interculturality
  • Access to comprehensive health, leisure and sports

In order to achieve further inclusion of refugees and migrants, this year also saw various initiatives take place across the city, including:


  • Launching the first transgender protocol for public equipment to provide humanized care for transgender refugees and migrants living in Sao Paulo; 
  • Training for public teachers to integrate better refugee children in schools and develop projects to welcome their families in the neighbourhood; 
  • Signing the #IBelong campaign to end statelessness through the secretariat of international relations (open letter)
  • Advocating with the new elected authorities (2021-2024)


Find out more about how Sao Paulo is working for the protection and well-being of refugees and migrants who live in the city here.