‘Returning to Brazil is out of the question’

LISBON: “Returning to Brazil is out of the question,” says Alexandre Saboia. The Lisbon restaurateur is among tens of thousands of Brazilian entrepreneurs, workers, students or frightened gays who have flocked to Portugal as a safe haven, preferring it over Britain or the United States. Portugal has not seen such a flood of Brazilian immigrants in two decades, sparked by the 2015 economic crisis in their home country and this year’s election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Brazilians are now Portugal’s largest foreign population.


More than 100,000 Brazilian immigrants were officially registered in 2018, a record set following a jump of 23.4 percent in a year, according to data from the SEF border police. Sociologist Pedro Gois of the University of Coimbra estimates that nearly 300,000 Brazilians currently live among Portugal’s 10 million people. Saboia, who emigrated last year with his wife and two teenage daughters, said that “insecurity was getting worse by the day” in Sao Paulo, the world’s largest Portuguese-speaking city.


“We hesitated between Miami and Lisbon. In the end, we chose Portugal for its security and the language,” said the greying 44-year-old. Saboia sold everything to come to Portugal, buying and fixing up a small restaurant in Parede outside Lisbon. More than 700 wealthy Brazilians, second only to the Chinese, have obtained residency permits via a 2012 “golden visa” scheme requiring a minimum investment of 500,000 euros ($560,000) in Portuguese real estate.


Living in fear ‘became complicated’
Another motivation has been that of escaping homophobia in Brazil. Bolsonaro told Playboy magazine in June 2011 that he would rather his son “die in an accident” than be gay. Meg Macedo, a 33-year-old lesbian, says she came to Lisbon to study theatre, describing Portugal as “open and progressive”. “Living in fear because of who you are, it became complicated,” she said.


Debora Ribeiro, a Brazilian student in Porto, northern Portugal, founded Queer Tropical, a network to help gays who have fled Brazil to settle in Portugal.


Increasing numbers of students have also chosen to study in Portugal. From just over 11,000 in 2017, the figure shot up to around 18,000 last year. Portugal’s deputy minister for higher education told AFP that Brazilians were attracted by “a country that is culturally close (with) a reputation for quality of life and security.”


Students are also turning away from Britain because of uncertainty over Brexit, while Washington’s harder line regarding Latinos seeking student visas is another deterrent, according to Gois. Brazilian immigrants traditionally work in the hotel, services and trade sectors, according to Cyntia de Paula, head of Caso do Brasil, a group that helps migrants settle in. She arrived around 20 years ago with her husband, and they settled in Figueira da Foz in central Portugal. Since the financial crisis, “we are seeing a second wave of Brazilian immigration,” Gois said.- AFP