Speaking for Ourselves

Welcoming refugees - the view from Brazil

Welcoming refugees - the view from Brazil

Simone Pereira

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Welcoming refugees - the view from Brazil

Despite of the economic and political difficulties of Brazil, refugees from around the globe move to the biggest South American country in the hope of a better life.

Almost every day the refugee crisis is in the headlines of European newspapers. With the exception of the Angela Merkel's administration and the example of another couple of other countries, it feels like the sense of responsibility among the world leaders is lacking. While European leaders decide on whether to close their borders and on how many refugees they are willing to help, I have looked into the situation for refugees on the other side of the globe.  

Although Brazil's political and economic crisis is gaining space in the press - little is said about the new arrivals striving for a better future who are landing on its shores. The refugee requests in Brazil grew 960% between 2010 and 2014 and Brazilians are not uncomfortable with this at all. 

I recently spent three months in Brazil - my country of birth - and had an opportunity to visit a refugee shelter in Sao Paulo. As an immigrant myself, I wanted to understand why people choose my country to be their home.

When I met Nascimento, a young woman from Angola, who is about to have her second child, I tried to understand what made her leave her family and friends back home. Pretty and friendly, Nascimento has been in Brazil for three months and says she had fled from religious persecution in her country. Although she has the advantage over other refugees as a Portuguese speaker, the young woman will still need time to adapt to the customs of Brazil. The adaptation phase should be easier on her as her sister lives in the shelter too and left Angola for the same reason. "I'm already here, I have to like it here" says Juliana (Nascimento’s sister) who is also pregnant and has a five-year-old boy. At first, the girl cried a lot when she just arrived to the shelter, now she participates in all activities and she has been teaching the other girls how to make a traditional Angolan doll. Juliana is also interested in learning more about Brazilian culture. Although Nascimento and Juliana are pregnant and have small children, they say that their dream is to go back to their studies. "I want to go to the university to study marketing," Nascimento told me.

Through organizations such as the Casa de Passagem “Terra Nova” (Passage House "New Land") coordinated by the State of São Paulo and Caritas - Archdiocese of São Paulo, people like Nascimento and Juliana find a way to start a new life in Brazil. Casa de Passagem offers a variety of services to the immigrants, such as social, psychological, educational, legal, and support their integration into the labor market. At present, Casa de Passagem is home to people from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and Morocco, but Bolivians, Colombians and Syrians have also passed through it. The Syrians are the largest group of refugees recognized by Brazil and São Paulo is the state that receives the most requests from refugees.

Another organisation that assists refugees is Support Program for Replacement of Refugees (PARR). The aim of the organisation is to help them to get a job, breaking the stigma refugees face, and make this integration work for both the refugees and Brazilians.  

Although Haitians are not considered refugees, the government in Brazil recognizes the need to provide humanitarian support to the people of Haiti through humanitarian visas. According to data from the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) by 2015, over 45 thousand Haitians made request to settle in Brazil.

All work done with the refugees in Brazil also aims to protect them from exploitation and prejudice. People who come to another country in search of safety must be respected. Those who arrive in Brazil have access to health services and schools free of charge, and their rights at work are guaranteed like that of any other Brazilian.

With the economic and political crises unfolding a lot of Brazilians are not happy with their country. Others find there is hope of a safer and better life. We may have radically different perspectives, but the urgency and desire for change unites us.    

There is still a lot to be done in Brazil for immigrants and Brazilians, but I am happy with the humanitarian approach of the government and I hope people in Brazil can do their part, respecting and helping new arrivals the best way they can.

Simone Pereira is a Brazilian journalist and immigration adviser who has been living in London for 12 years. She writes a blog for Brazilians about London www.viageminvestimento.com

Recently Simone spent three months in Brazil and had an opportunity to visit a refugee shelter in Sao Paulo. Being an immigrant herself, Simone wants to understand why people choose her country to be their home. She feels at home in Brazil and London, and similarly her expectation is that the new immigrants in Brazil should be able to feel the same way.