Amid Construction Boom, Migrants Flow Into Brazil : Parallels For decades, Brazilians migrated to Europe and the United States in search of better jobs and opportunities. But as Brazil's economy has grown, more and more of the world's desperate are coming to Brazil.
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Amid Construction Boom, Migrants Flow Into Brazil

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Amid Construction Boom, Migrants Flow Into Brazil

Amid Construction Boom, Migrants Flow Into Brazil

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Brazil is facing a new challenge that will be familiar to listeners in the U.S.: illegal immigration. For decades, Brazil was an exporter of immigrants. Its citizens traveled to Europe and the United States in search of a better life. Now, as the economy has grown, more and more of the world's desperate people are ending up on Brazil's shores.

And as NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, Brazil is struggling with how to address the problem.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Brazil is in the midst of a building boom as it constructs stadiums across the country ahead of the World Cup next year. Here, in Sao Paulo, the massive arena won't be ready for many more months but there are hundreds of workers taking part in the project and not all of them are Brazilian.

MARIE EVELIN MELOUS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's 26-year-old Haitian Marie Eveline Melous. She's been in Brazil for only a few months, she tells me. She left Haiti she says because life there is very difficult, especially after the earthquake. It's hard to find work. I came to Brazil to help my situation, she says. She's now working in the administration department at the stadium construction site. Her Haitian husband works here also as a welder.

They are the lucky ones, though - they have visas and jobs. But across town, there are many more who are struggling to survive.

There are over a hundred Haitians clustered in a dark waiting room at Our Lady of Peace Church in downtown Sao Paulo, the newest group of undocumented migrants to come flooding into Brazil.

FATHER PAULO PARISE: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Father Paulo Parise(ph) runs the mission. He says Brazil is entering a new phase. Brazil used to export its people overseas, but now we are attracting migrants, he says. The number of undocumented migrants here is still tiny compared to countries like the U.S., where there are millions of illegal immigrants. Immigrants here make up less than 1 percent of the Brazilian population. But the number is growing and advocates say Brazil doesn't know how to cope. In April, one Brazilian state on the Bolivian border declared a state of emergency after only a few thousand Haitians made their way into the country.

PARISE: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Father Parise says that's because Brazil doesn't have the infrastructure to actually deal with large influxes of migrants. It's not enough to allow people to enter and give them humanitarian visas, he says. They need a place to stay, somewhere to get food, health care and work, he says. In Brazil, the church or civil society take on those tasks but it's no longer enough. In an interview with NPR, National Justice Secretary Paulo Abrao says there are three reasons why more people want to emigrate to Brazil.

PAULO ABRAO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, our economy has grown and millions have moved into the middle class, he says. There is record employment in Brazil these days and an economic crisis in other parts of the world. He says Brazil has also gained a lot of international visibility, especially in advance of the World Cup and the Olympics. Third, he says, we have a tradition of hospitality. We are a country, he says, built on migration. In fact, Brazil is fairly generous with its immigration policies. All the Haitians who have made it here have been allowed to stay and have been given humanitarian visas. Hundreds of thousands of other migrants from South America are also allowed to work here under the auspices of regional agreements. But as Brazil becomes a more attractive destination, it's also having to deal with the ugly side of immigration.

FRANCO BERGARA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Franco Bergara is from Bolivia's south. He's on the street looking for work and he talks about how many Bolivians are lured to Brazil and forced to work in sweatshops. They take their documents, he says, and make them work all day and pay them nothing. Recently, the government closed down a number of these factories, some of which were making clothes for international brands like Gap and Zara. It's not just Bolivians who are exploited, though they form the largest group. Recently, Brazilians were astounded when a trafficking ring bringing people from Bangladesh was busted by Brazilian police.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at Our Lady of Peace Church, a Haitian migrant, who doesn't want his name used, says he has six siblings in the U.S. but he decided to come to Brazil instead because he heard it was easier to get documents and work.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's been almost two months now and he and his wife haven't found a job. It's not easy he says, but we are here now to stay. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paolo.

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