By Jan Rocha
In Brazil, a country of migrants, President Dilma Rousseff is the daughter of a Bulgarian migrant. President Juscelino Kubitschek, who built Brasilia, the country’s capital since 1960, was the son of a Czech migrant. The father of Milton Hatoum, one of Brazil´s best-known writers, came from the Lebanon. The very first migrants were the Portuguese, who arrived in 1500, decimating the indigenous population with war and disease.
Over the next 300 years the slave trade brought an estimated eight million Africans to work in the goldmines, sugar plantations and coffee farms. The next big wave of migration came from Europe in the 19th century, when shiploads of impoverished peasant families, mostly Italian and German, arrived to farm and work in the new industries.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Japanese immigrants escaping from poverty arrived to work on the coffee farms. Today Brazil has the world’s largest concentration of ethnic Japanese living outside Japan.
After World War One and the collapse of the Ottoman empire Turks, Lebanese and Syrians arrived and in between the wars came Jewish refugees. After the establishment of Israel, it was the turn of the Palestinians. In the 1970s, thousands of new exiles arrived, fleeing right-wing dictatorships in neighbouring Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
As Brazil entered a period of economic prosperity in the early 2000s migrants came from the USA and Europe, escaping the economic downturn in their own countries.
Over recent years the tightening of restrictions on Africans trying to reach Europe led many to look to Brazil instead. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which caused thousands of deaths and widespread devastation in one of the world’s poorest countries, caused an upsurge in migration to Brazil.
This article is taken from the Ethical Journalism Network's report 'Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration'
About the author
Jan Rocha, based in Sao Paolo, is a former correspondent for the Guardian and the BBC WorldService. She has lived in Brazil for many years and has written several books about the country. Jan has an intimate knowledge of Brazil having travelled extensively around the country. She is particularly involved in labour and environmental matters and has monitored the movement of workers and the continued expansion of settlements in the Amazonian region.
Read the other sections of the report here