Operation Shelter, Two Years as a Model of Excellence for Other Countries

Operation Shelter, Two Years as a Model of Excellence for Other Countries

By Marcos Ommati / Diálogo
March 02, 2020

Launched in March 2018 in the state of Roraima, Operation Shelter seeks to welcome, shelter, and relocate immigrants who flee the Venezuelan crisis. The operation has become Venezuelans’ main gateway into Brazil.

To mark the second anniversary of the most important civil-military engagement in the history of the Brazilian Armed Forces, Diálogo spoke with Brazilian Army Colonel Carlos Frederico Cinelli, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Humanitarian Logistics Task Force, in Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima.

Diálogo: When and why was the Humanitarian Logistics Task Force created?

Brazilian Army Colonel Carlos Frederico Cinelli, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Humanitarian Logistics Task Force: The Task Force was created as soon as Operation Shelter was launched and when the Emergency Assistance Committee, comprised of 11 ministries, was established. The Ministry of Defense identified the need — taking into account the Armed Forces’ rapid deployment of capabilities, modular logistics, and flexibility — to create a logistics branch for the operation, to execute this rapid deployment and, from that point forward, add the capabilities of humanitarian agencies that would later provide us support.

Diálogo: How does the Task Force work?

Col. Cinelli: The design of the Humanitarian Logistics Task Force is similar to that of a military warfare operation’s general staff. We have functional cells — such as the ones of military operations’ general staffs — with some combined structures, due to the nature of the mission. There is, for instance, a personnel officer, an intelligence officer, an operations officer, etc. We have a relocation officer, who is the D12 (cell 12), and cell 13, under the responsibility of the shelter officer. These were designs that we had to add to the Task Force base so we could respond to this very specific humanitarian response — an unprecedented and particular response, considered internationally as one of Brazil’s most effective for this type of crisis.

Diálogo: Before Operation Shelter, what would happen to the Venezuelans who arrived in Brazil after fleeing the crisis in their country?

Col. Cinelli: When the flow increased considerably — we’re talking about 2017 — there was no response. Some local organizations handled vulnerable people. At first, these organizations were able to provide some assistance. Among the first groups that arrived seeking help were the indigenous peoples, who were persecuted in Venezuela, mostly related to the control of gold mines in areas close to Brazil. Some organizations provided shelter for the indigenous population, but the state hadn’t taken over security, health, and other essential services, such as housing and education. The population grew four times the size of its original number in the city.

That fluctuating population, who were not residents of Boa Vista, could not find jobs. Suddenly, the number was four, five times bigger. For instance, people were all over the local bus station. The images from that time show children and other people sleeping on the ground, any way they could. The city had about 450,000 people and was not able to absorb the flow of migrants. Therefore, the first response from the Brazilian government included the Armed Forces, through the decree that established Operation Shelter, having a military base as the operation’s backbone.

Diálogo: How does the joint work between Brazilian service members and international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, etc. function?

Col. Cinelli: Our Armed Forces already have expertise on account of their many years in peacekeeping operations, especially in Haiti, and African countries, dealing with humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations. Regarding the Brazilian response to this humanitarian crisis, there was a significant increase in this synergy, due to the nature of the operation. Today, Operation Shelter is considered a successful response, including at the international level, thanks to the synergy of efforts. None of the actors, regardless of capability, would be able to respond if they were alone. We arrived here, and as soon as we were faced with logistics issues, we realized we had to build shelters, pave some of the terrain, pitch tents, and distribute food. We knew it wouldn’t be possible to accomplish this without the cooperation of partner organizations.

They executed everything efficiently, they were organized, and they shared responsibilities; in other words, they each had their own tasks, and each one acted within their area of expertise. For instance, UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], focused on shelters — one of the three pillars of the operation — and on hiring local partners to manage the shelters. They are also responsible for granting refugee status. The IOM, the International Organization for Migration, works with the Task Force on relocation — which is the second pillar of the operation — also handling temporary residency status. The third pillar is border control, in which all partners participate. I am only giving a few examples of expertise and capabilities. Today we have about 115 partners involved in the operation. From religious, philanthropic, and humanitarian organizations, to the agencies of the United Nations. If we could give credit for Operation Shelter to a single factor, I would attribute it to the synergy of efforts.

Diálogo: What is the main lesson learned after two years of operation?

Col. Cinelli: I believe that Operation Shelter demonstrates, especially to military forces, that the use of force, pure and simple, even under the legitimate monopoly of the state, is not always valid. Considering the complexity of the 21st century, defined by some sociologists as a postmodern or fluid world, where great narratives have fallen apart, abstract elements, known as soft power, are involved in any solution to controversy and crises. Often times, because they are capable of operating in an ample operational spectrum — and the Brazilian Armed Forces are clearly demonstrating this capability — effective responses can come from troops who would traditionally use force, but in another context, under competent leadership, discipline, and an accurate assessment of the scenario, they can offer solutions as effective as the other organizations, which are traditionally involved in certain causes.