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Brazilian Immigrants Weather Crisis in Spain

Clarinha Glock

BARCELONA, Spain, Jul 27 2010 (IPS) - Unlike so many immigrants who have come to Spain in search of jobs and a better standard of living, 39-year-old Flávio José Carvalho da Silva moved to this northeastern Spanish city from his home country of Brazil because he fell in love with a local woman.

Silva, who has a degree in sociology and anthropology and a master’s in politics from the Federal University of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil, met the woman who is now his wife at the World Social Forum, the annual global civil society meet usually hosted by that South American country.

He has lived in Barcelona, the capital of the province of Catalonia, for five years. But in April, he joined the ranks of the unemployed, in the midst of the second wave of the global financial crisis, which is sweeping Europe and has led to the loss of thousands of jobs in Spain.

In this southern European country of 47 million people, nearly four million people were out of work in late June — a full 20 percent of the economically active population. The Ministry of Labour and Immigration reported that the total number of unemployed was 11.7 percent higher than in June 2009.

But in the case of foreigners, the increase was 20.4 percent.

When he came to Spain, Silva at first took on odd jobs, such as picking grapes in a small farming town outside of Barcelona. But then he began to find work more in line with his academic training. However, he was always hired under temporary contracts.

He worked in neighbourhood and immigrant organisations, and later in Barcelona’s Association for International Cooperation, where he helped organise a database of its members, until he was laid off.

His unemployment insurance is about to run out, and because he sees no prospects for the future, he and his wife have started thinking of moving to Brazil with their two children, he told IPS.

But he doesn’t believe that many Brazilians are thinking of returning. What he is sure of, based on the number of queries he receives about how to find a place to live and a job in Barcelona, is that many of his fellow Brazilians are packing up to move to Spain.

Silva says that many Brazilians still want to leave the country because the local currency, the real, is stable, which has made it possible for people to save up and take the risk of trying their luck in other countries. And with respect to economic crises, he says Brazilians long ago learned to deal with the impact of troubled times.

Barcelona is attractive to people from Brazil because it has a warm climate, beaches, a vibrant cultural scene and a lively nightlife, like Rio de Janeiro, and a culture of hard work, like Sao Paulo. The city “is like a miniature Brazil, with Brazilians of all social classes and all kinds of jobs,” he said.

Silva still holds out hope that the crisis might actually open up job opportunities for him. “I see how much need there is for support and ideas for projects,” he said, pointing out that organising groups and helping people get through tough times is part of the expertise he acquired both in his country and in Spain.

He forms part of a network that is working to organise Brazilian immigrants, to demand better services in his country’s consulates and greater assistance for Brazilians living abroad. He plans to seek election as a member of the Council of Brazilians in the World, to be created late this year.

“The Brazilian government has no idea of how its citizens abroad are living; it doesn’t even imagine that there are hungry people lined up outside Caritas,” the Catholic relief agency, he said.

Immigration in numbers

Miguel Pajares, a researcher at the University of Barcelona, told IPS that a study on immigration and labour, whose results will be released in August, found that in 2009, the inflow of immigrants remained steady from 2008, when the international financial crisis broke out in the United States.

But there was one major change, says the study in which Pajares took part, which was conducted by the Labour Ministry’s Permanent Observatory on Immigration (OPI).

The researcher said the country has started to approach a balance between the number of immigrants arriving and those returning to their home countries.

During the immigration boom in the first seven years of this century, between 600,000 and 700,000 foreign nationals arrived in Spain yearly.

But in 2009, according to a survey by the National Statistics Institute, some 400,000 migrants left Spain. Of the Latin Americans, the largest numbers heading back were apparently from Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, although there are no hard statistics, Pajares said.

He believes the flow of immigrants to the European Union will rise again when the crisis has been overcome. But in Spain, he adds, the process will occur later, because the unemployment rate is twice the bloc’s average. Moreover, jobs are fast disappearing in Spain, while the creation of new ones is slow.

Brazil, a case apart

Between 2008 and 2009, the OPI commissioned a study titled “Los inmigrantes brasileños en la estructura socioeconómica española” (Brazilian Immigrants in the Spanish Socioeconomic Structure), with two objectives: to draw up a socio-demographic map of Brazilians in the country and to support their insertion.

One of the researchers, Leonardo Cavalcanti, a social science professor who specialises in migration and lectures at several universities, told IPS that Brazilians have traditionally preferred to emigrate to the United States and Portugal.

But from 2004 to 2008, they became latecomers to the Spanish economic boom, and the community of Brazilians in Spain mushroomed from 40,000 to 120,000. However, it was not until 2007 that the immigration authorities began to notice the influx and started to bar the entry of Brazilians.

The situation came to a peak in February 2008, when a Brazilian student with a graduate degree in physics and four others flying on to Lisbon to take part in a scientific conference were refused entry to the Madrid airport.

Brazil’s threat to give Spanish citizens the same treatment in its airports, and an outcry by the media, helped bring a halt to such incidents.

Women represent 60 percent of the Brazilian community in Spain, which is comprised of the largest proportion of undocumented migrants of any foreign community. Most Brazilians come to this country to find work and a better life, says the study by Cavalcanti et al.

All immigrants in Spain are now facing the impact of the government’s cuts in social services and welcome programmes. Nevertheless, “for many it is preferable to stay in Spain rather than return to their countries,” Cavalcanti said.

The expert believes it is important to study how second-generation immigrants are fitting into Spain and the rest of Europe. “No one knows what the future of these children will be like, whether they will be second-class citizens or will have the same access to work as the sons and daughters of Spaniards,” he said.

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