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17/08/2010 - 11:06hs

Brazilian immigrants in the Arab world

Brazilian expatriate communities in the region are made up mostly of qualified professionals. They are pilots, teachers, stewards, soccer players and engineers.

São Paulo- There are over 18,000 Brazilians living in the Arab world. Among them are aircraft pilots, teachers, flight attendants, football coaches and players and engineers who decided to test life abroad, doing the opposite of what Arab immigrants did on coming to Brazil.

“It is more professional immigration, more qualified, and does not have a permanent characteristic, it is temporary, though continues being immigration," said professor and sociologist Oswaldo Truzzi, who compared the current phenomenon to the mass Arab immigration of the 20th century. Most of the Arab immigrants who came to South America were Syrian and Lebanese and, little by little, they won their space in trade.

Currently, the largest part of these Brazilians is in Lebanon, which houses around 15,000 Brazilians and descendants of Lebanese. However, there are those that do not have any family connection with the Arabs and adopt a country in the Middle East or North Africa as their new land. That is the case with the Brazilian Raquel Barros, who has been living in the United Arab Emirates with her family for six years and has become a tour guide in Dubai.

The change in Raquel's life took place in 2004, when her husband was called to be a pilot for Emirates airline. “When we moved here, I did not know much about Dubai. I thought I was not going to like it," said the Brazilian, who moved to the Emirate with two little kids. According to her, at the time, there were not many Brazilians in the emirate. "The hardest thing was getting here without a Brazilian community, knowing nobody," she said.

Raquel Barros/Personal images
Raquel Barros/Personal images

Raquel (top left) meets Brazilian friends

Today, in the Emirates, there is a population of around 2,000 Brazilians, according to figures disclosed by the embassy of Brazil to Abu Dhabi. Two years ago, the figure was between 1,000 and 1,500. “With the crisis in Dubai, it is possible for this tendency to be partly affected, but in the medium term, the population should rise due to the gradual settlement of our relations with the Emirates, especially in the economic and commercial areas," said the ambassador of Brazil in the country, Raul Campos e Castro.

According to him, most of these immigrants work as pilots, technicians and stewards of the two main airlines in the country, Emirates and Etihad. Apart from them, there are representatives of Brazilian companies that operate in the country, like construction companies, exporters and banks, among others. The ambassador also recalled the football players and jiu-jitsu instructors who teach in the schools of Abu Dhabi.

Raquel feels that the number of Brazilians in Dubai has been growing. At Emirates alone, according to her, there are 100 Brazilian pilots and 600 stewards. “You often see Brazilians in the street," she said.

To remember home, the immigrants meet on weekends to dance and eat barbecues. That is how the Brazilians who moved to Libya, in North Africa, enjoy themselves. Over the last years, Brazilian company Odebrecht has been contributing with the qualified immigration for its subsidiary in Tripoli, the country capital.

Luciana Cotta Lobo Leite, aged 32, has been living in Tripoli for two years and works at the Human Resources department of the Brazilian company. “It is not easy in the beginning, as there are very different traditions from ours," she said. To live in harmony with the locals and in the corporate world, Luciana explains that it is important to know the Arab customs and some words.

The houses of Brazilians and of private beaches for foreigners are the meeting points on weekends. According to Luciana, Odebrecht has 200 Brazilian employees in Libya, but the lack of human heat, of food from Minas Gerais and liberty to walk in the streets with no concern make her miss Brazil.

Living and learning

Marcelo Camacho, 30 years of age, is a football player. He has been living in Riyadh, the Saudi Capital, for six years, where he plays for Al Shabab. “It was very hard in the beginning, mainly due to language and religion," said Camacho, who now can already understand and speak a little of the language.

Saudi Arabia is the most conservative country in the Arab world. Women need to walk around covered and cannot drive, for example. Islamic laws are strictly followed and the government even controls the Internet. However, Camacho likes to live in Riyadh. “I have grown much here, both as a professional and as a person. I started appreciating the little things," he said.

Marcelo Camacho/Personal images
Marcelo Camacho/Personal images

Marcelo has been in Riyadh for six years

According to him, in Riyadh his Brazilian acquaintances already total 30 people. Apart from players, there are also many professionals in the areas of information technology and oil. Meetings between Brazilians are common and parties even include black beans, imported from Brazil by the Brazilians themselves.

Football players are also present in Kuwait, as are executives and representatives of large corporations. According to figures disclosed by the embassy of Brazil in the country, the Brazilian community is between 150 and 250 people.

Most of the Brazilians visit Brazil at least once a year. Missing their families, the green nature and the warmth of the people are not forgotten while living in another country. “I plan to return to Brazil as I feel my home is there," said Raquel Barros, who should remain in Dubai for another six years.

*Translated by Mark Ament

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