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BRAZIL-SPAIN: This Country Reserves the Right of Admission

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 25 2008 (IPS) - Increasing numbers of Brazilians are being refused entry at Spanish airports, sometimes in humiliating fashion, as the influx of Brazilian immigrants to Europe grows, and the deportations are causing diplomatic friction between the two countries.

The largest community of Brazilians residing abroad is in the United States. But the tightening of immigration controls there since the mid-1990s, which were further stepped up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as the devaluation of the dollar, have made the U.S. less attractive as a destination.

Europe, especially Spain, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom, now receives more Brazilian immigrants, says Wilson Fusco, a demographer who does research at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife.

But it is the incidents occurring at Spanish migration control points that threaten to mar bilateral relations. A series of complaints about arbitrary treatment by the Spanish authorities have created a spirit of tit-for-tat in Brazil, where “reciprocity” measures are being adopted at some airports.

Brazilians denied admission at Madrid’s Barajas airport said they had been “treated like dogs,” and complained of being held for several days in crowded rooms, receiving insults and bad treatment, or being left for hours without any information about their status, and without food and water or access to their luggage.

The case of Patricia Magalhaes was widely reported. She was held for 10 days in the Barajas airport and then deported, in spite of being able to prove she was travelling to Portugal to take part in a physics congress, where she was to present the work she had done for her master’s thesis. Similar cases in which bona fide documents were rejected came to light this year.

The tough stance on immigrants taken by Spain also targets citizens of other poor countries, including Africans. Not even Latin Americans from countries like Argentina and Uruguay, which have preferential migration treaties with Spain, signed when the migratory flow was in the other direction, escape humiliating treatment at the airport.

But the “indignation” expressed by public opinion and the government in Brazil contains an element of “hypocrisy” and should be played down, Fusco told IPS. To be consistent, Brazil should also “change its own attitude towards foreigners,” especially from poorer countries like Bolivia and Paraguay.

Brazil “has not changed from a country of immigrants to one of emigrants,” he said. Many Brazilians have left the country since the 1980s, but many immigrants are still arriving in Brazil, and the sum total is close to zero. Among those who come to Brazil are Chinese, Koreans, Latin Americans, and to a lesser extent Africans.

The Brazilian authorities also deny entry to many foreigners, and do not permit “free circulation even within Mercosur (the Southern Common Market, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay),” Fusco said.

The “reciprocity” measures that have resulted in more rigid immigration controls and the deportation of a number of Spaniards over the last few days are not good business for Brazil, because they will hurt tourism, he said. The bilateral exchange of visitors is not symmetrical.

While a large proportion of Brazilians intend to stay in Spain, the Spanish visitors to Brazil are in fact tourists. And while the Brazilians contribute little to the tourism industry in Spain, which receives vast numbers of tourists, mainly from other European countries, the reverse is not true.

There are already between three and four million Brazilians living abroad, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The lack of precision of the figure testifies both to an explosive growth in emigration in the last few years – in 2005, the estimated number was two million – and to the illegal status of a large proportion of emigrants, which makes a reliable count impossible.

The Brazilian government is happy enough to export labour in this way, as its emigrants abroad send back large sums of foreign currency in remittances, and unemployment in Brazil is eased, Fusco said.

The number of Brazilians in Spain seems to have “tripled or quadrupled” since 2006, and this is why a greater number are being turned away, said Isabela Festa, who has been living legally in Barcelona for three years, first as a student earning her master’s degree in cultural management, and now in possession of a work visa.

Deportations of Brazilians from Spain increased in 2007, reaching an average of eight persons a day. And so far this year, they have nearly doubled.

The tightening of controls is attributed both to the greater numbers of travellers arriving from poorer countries, and to increasing unemployment in Spain as a result of the economic slowdown. Some analysts suggest Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero may have ulterior political motives, such as seeking the support of anti-immigrant sectors.

There is no discrimination against Brazilians, who have a “wonderful” image in Spain, where they are seen as “joyful people,” even though most of them are in the country illegally, Festa said.

Her story is typical of the process gone through by many Brazilian migrants. Her husband, Flavio Britto, has a brother and a cousin who have lived in Barcelona for five years, after they became the first members of the family to emigrate to the United States in the 1990s.

They planned to build up some capital and experience as chefs, and then go back to Brazil to set up their own restaurant.

But the post-Sept. 11, 2001 clampdown drove them to Barcelona, this time with legal status. They are now partners in Spanish restaurants. The idea of returning to Brazil faded as they got used to higher incomes and a better lifestyle, and one of them has married a Spanish woman who is expecting their first child.

Brazilian emigration “is here to stay,” according to Teresa Sales, a sociologist who has studied the migration phenomenon as a professor at the University of Campinas in the southern state of Sao Paulo, and now heads the non-governmental Josué de Castro Centre in Recife.

The first waves of migration, in the 1980s, were due to the economic crisis and massive unemployment in Brazil. It was expected the exodus would be temporary, but many Brazilians stayed abroad, and current emigration follows in the footsteps of networks of extended family relations, thus becoming a permanent process, Sales told IPS.

The ties between people in the country of origin and the destination country create pockets of intense migration between specific cities or occupations. Some cities in the central Brazilian state of Goiás, even tiny Uruaçú, with a population of 33,000, are a major source of women migrants who allegedly become prostitutes in Spain.

Emigré communities in host countries also encourage migration. Brazilians who arrived in the United Kingdom after the first tide of migrants had settled there no longer needed to speak English, Fusco said.

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  • Douglas

    That’s true. No one intends to move to a country with 50% of unemployment rate. Also, the number of Spanish citizens currently living in Brazil is bigger than the number of Brazilians living in Spain. What does that mean?