Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Population

MIGRATION-BRAZIL: Gov’t Engages Three Million Far-Flung Citizens

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 19 2009 (IPS) - Brazil, a major source of migrants since the 1980s, is now working at recognising and supporting the rights of the three million Brazilians who are scattered among over 100 countries.

A Council of Representatives of Brazilians Living Abroad (CRBE), comprised of 16 members and their substitutes, will be elected in May 2010 to facilitate communication with the different state bodies.

That was one of the resolutions reached by the Second Conference of Brazilian Communities Abroad, which wound up Oct. 16 in Rio de Janeiro. For three days, some 100 participants discussed the situation and the needs of Brazilians who went to live abroad, mainly for economic reasons.

The conference is a result of a process begun in 2006, when the Under-Secretariat General for Brazilian Communities Abroad (SGEB) was created within the Foreign Ministry. The first conference of expatriates was held in July 2008, also in Rio de Janeiro.

Preparatory meetings for the conference were held in cities with large Brazilian communities on every continent. The demands approved at the debates last week ranged from the provision of primary, technical and bilingual education to improvements in health care and consular and legal services, especially for women and undocumented migrants.

One of the expatriates’ dreams for the future is to elect representatives of their own to the Brazilian parliament, in line with a draft constitutional amendment that was introduced in 2005 and has been approved by the Senate. Parliamentary representation of expatriates is already occurring in certain European countries with a longer tradition of migration, and in Colombia.

The delegates to this second conference, some of whose accents betrayed their long-term residence abroad, revealed through their speeches and reports the diversity of the Brazilian diaspora and the difficulties they face in organising and representing their interests.

To form the CRBE, the world was divided into four large regions, each of which is to have four representatives and four substitutes. The first region, North America, has the largest number of Brazilian migrants – nearly 1.3 million – of whom just over 1.2 million live in the United States, according to consular figures for 2008.

The other areas are Europe, with 766,600 Brazilians, Central and South America and the Caribbean, with 618,300, and the huge region of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania with 380,000 Brazilians, 80 percent of whom live in Japan. The conference recommended dividing this fourth region into two.

Representation on the Council cannot be proportional to population, but rather is decided according to mixed criteria that take into account the complexity of issues in each region or country, explained ambassador Oto Maia, SGEB’s under-secretary general. In Paraguay there are half a million “Brasiguayos,” as Brazilians living in that country are called. Many of them are farmers who face conflicts over land ownership, he said. In Bolivia the situation is similar, although there are less than 50,000 migrants there, who are up against the more serious threat of possible expulsion.

There are fewer Brazilian migrants in Europe than in the United States, but the complexity of the problems in so many different countries requires more assistance from consulates, said Maia, who chaired the conference.

Any scheme for representing expatriate Brazilians has a hard time taking into account undocumented migrants, who may represent up to 80 percent of the total in many countries, according to rough estimates. Unable to travel, they cannot participate in the CRBE or meetings outside of the country they live in.

Japan, with its stricter immigration policy, only accepts “Nikkeijin” (descendants of Japanese emigrants) and their families from Brazil. Although the Nikkei community in Brazil has the highest levels of income and education of any ethnic group, significant numbers have returned to the country of their forebears, seeking higher wages. Many are university graduates who do manual work rejected by the Japanese.

Several of the conference participants complained of denial of labour rights, lack of medical and psychological care, lack of information and other difficulties, and argued for a stronger presence of Brazilian consular services and of the ministries of Education, Health and Culture.

The flow of Brazilian migrants, which rose sharply due to the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s, has diversified recently and there are even signs of a reversal.

Many migrants are returning to Brazil because the global financial crisis has hit the rich countries where they were living particularly hard.

The range of proposals made by the group that discussed culture and education at the conference, demanding more Brazilian education and cultural dissemination in the countries where they live, were an indication of the consolidation of Brazilian migrant communities abroad, with more sophisticated demands than simply higher wages.

Marcos Souza, a musician who used to live in Spain and has recently moved to the Netherlands, is an example of a Brazilian who emigrated as a career choice, rather than being forced to do so for economic reasons. His goal is to spread Brazilian culture in Europe, and become better qualified in music for film and theatre.

Part of his mission is to publicise the film “Três irmaos de sangue” (Three Blood Brothers) about his father, Chico Mario, a well-known Brazilian composer, and his uncles, the famous caricaturist Henfil and social activist Herbert “Betinho” de Souza, who mobilised the country in a campaign against hunger in the 1990s. All three were hemophiliacs and died of AIDS after contracting HIV through treatment with tainted blood products.

After making the film and writing a book that includes his father’s songs and biography, Souza considered his work in Brazil was completed. His first choice of where to live in Europe was Madrid, because his wife, Adrianne Scheiner, wanted to specialise in textile design, a subject she felt she could not study in Brazil.

“Brazil has more excellent musicians than good footballers,” Souza told IPS, to explain why he has become an ambassador for Brazilian culture.

Acquiring knowledge in his profession, as well as the high standard of living in Amsterdam, without the violence prevalent in Rio de Janeiro, are some of the attractions of his present lifestyle. “We’re not ruling out going back,” he said, although for now he only plans to return to Brazil for the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

After four years learning cookery and working hard for a living in California in the United States, Fernando Álvarez, the son of a successful journalist and a sociologist, has been living for nearly eight years in Barcelona and working as a chef, and now a partner, in two restaurants.

He plans to return to Brazil in five years’ time, after opening five restaurants in Barcelona and Madrid for a large company in which he is a partner. The success of that undertaking will determine the links he maintains with Spain and the frequency of his travel to the country, he told IPS.

His businesses are barely affected by the global economic crisis, as they are inexpensive, popular restaurants, offering predominantly Japanese cuisine, with Brazilian, U.S. and European influences.

Álvarez is confident that, even if his enterprises in Spain should fail, the experience he has accumulated in restaurant management and cooking, and the chef’s courses he has taken will allow him to set up a business of his own anywhere. He is glad he went to Barcelona, with its artistic culture and its large Brazilian community.

In his experience, it is harder to get into the United States than Europe, but in a European country there is stricter control and more roundups of undocumented immigrants, whereas in the United States, there is less pressure, he said.

However, that has changed in recent years, said Álvarez, who left the United States two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said “it was the last straw” that made up his mind to go to Barcelona.

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