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Brazilians heading home from Portugal

The European financial crisis is reversing old migration paths. Many Brazilians are now moving out of Portugal and back to their home country.

Seventeen years ago, Gabriela Nogueira moved from her home country of Brazil to Portugal. Back then, in the mid '90s, the Brazilian economy was struggling with very high inflation rates and the introduction of a new, revalued currency. Only a few Brazilians saw any perspective for the future in their own country.

Like many others, Nogueira, a young advertising employee, decided to look for new opportunities in Europe. "I saw more chances for a secure future outside Brazil," recalls the now 42-year-old. "In Portugal, one could feel the first impact of joining the European market. The country was growing and developing," she said.

Portugal: a migrant destination

Portugal had been a migration country for over two decades. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of foreigners arriving in the country quadrupled, reaching about half a million. Statistics from the Portuguese immigration authority show that 110,000 of those foreigners were from Brazil.

Gabriela Nogueira moved with her family back to Brazil (Foto: DW/Antonio Netto)

Gabriela Nogueira moved with her family back to Brazil

Today, the tables have turned. Portugal is struggling with its national debt and the economy is almost stagnant. At the same time Brazil is flourishing. The unemployment rate there is about six percent, while it is over 15 percent in Portugal.

As a result, the migration routes are now being reversed: By the end of 2011 the number of Brazilians living in Portugal had gone down by 8,000 compared to the beginning of that year. In 2010 and 2011 a total of 17,000 foreigners overall left the country.

Goodbye crisis country

In 2012, Gabriela Nogueira also decided to move back to Brazil. She says that the decision wasn't easy because her husband is from Spain and her five-year-old daughter grew up in Portugal. Nevertheless, they made the decision to move because there was no hope for them in Portugal.

"The labor market in Portugal and in other European countries is very inflexible. Even with necessary qualifications you don't get a job," she says.

For that reason they've been living in Sao Paolo since the end of last year. "Although you have to work more here, at least you have a wide range of cultural activities," says Nogueira. She also finds that to some extent Sao Paulo resembles the Lisbon she first moved to almost 20 years ago.

A difficult road home

Brazil needs skilled workers in the construction sector (Foto: Jürgen Sorges)

Brazil needs skilled workers in the construction sector

While her family's situation made it difficult for Nogueira to return to her home country, economic problems make many of her fellow Brazilians opt for a quick return home. Eliana Miranda went to Portugal in 2005. She dreamed of a better life and of having her own house. Eliana worked as a nanny and as a cleaner. At first, everything went well for her, even though she soon realized that it would be difficult to buy her own home.

But now, she has been jobless for months and doesn't have enough money to return to Brazil. That's why she turned to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which helps migrants who do not have the means to return home. With financial aid from the Portuguese government, the organization provides plane tickets and even helps in the re-integration process at home.

IOM project assistant Isabel Salim presents numbers that speak for themselves: 1,397 Brazilians applied for help in 2010. That number rose to 1,839 in 2011 and by mid-2012 there were already 1,214 applications.

End of a dream

The increasing number of people who are returning is a blessing for Brazil. That is why Salim wants the government there to support those who want to go back and also create incentives for them. “These people bring valuable know-how from Portugal which might contribute to Brazil's growth. Especially people who've worked in the construction and service sectors, since both are shrinking in Portugal, but expanding in Brazil.”

Two days before her departure to Belo Horizonte, Eliana Miranda decided to face the facts: "My dreams were not realistic. And now, everything has become more complicated." Her survival in Brazil is not assured, since she will also have a tough life there. "I know that life is very difficult and expensive in Brazil," she says, "but at least I have hope of getting a chance there. Here in Portugal I don't even need to try."

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