In break with tradition, Brazil moves to curb Haitian influx Origin: Brazil

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With a booming economy that lures a growing number of foreign workers, Brazil has moved to curb a growing influx of impoverished Haitians, hardening a previously more permissive immigration stand.

Tuesday, 10 January,  the government said it would grant residence visas to 4,000 undocumented Haitian immigrants already in the country but vowed to crack down on people-smuggling from the desperately poor Caribbean nation.

The decision came in reaction to a large influx of Haitians, many of whom told human rights groups they were abused by traffickers in Peru and Bolivia before being smuggled into Latin America's economic powerhouse.

Analysts said the hardening of the country's traditionally more permissive immigration policy came as a surprise.

"Brazil closes its borders to contain the 'invasion' of Haitians," headlined the daily O Globo.

"It's a new situation for Brazil, which for the first time confronts this influx of people who come to this country because they see its economy as a source of jobs and opportunities," said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV).

Smuggled by traffickers, the Haitians, whose country was devastating by a deadly earthquake two years ago, are seeking work at the huge hydroelectric projects under construction in the Brazilian Amazon or in Sao Paulo," said Nilson Mourao, the secretary for justice and human rights of the northwestern state of Acre.

"It's the price Brazil is paying for having become the world's sixth largest economy," he added.

Tuesday, authorities also ordered tighter border vigilance and said they planned to raise the illegal immigration with their counterparts in neighboring Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The influx of Haitians, which began in February 2010 shortly after their country was devastated by the quake, has been accelerating in recent days.

Most of the incoming Haitians have been assembling in the towns of Tabatinga and Brasileia in the states of Amazonas and Acre, bordering Peru.

During the decades when Europe, the United States and Japan enjoyed solid economic growth, many Brazilians traveled to these countries in search of work and opportunities.

And Brazil harshly criticized the immigration restrictions then imposed by these countries.

Today Latin America's economic behemoth has become the choice destination for many Europeans, Americans and workers from poor countries.

"We view the immigration policies adopted by some rich countries as unjust," former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in 2009 as he approved an amnesty that legalized tens of thousands of illegal aliens.

"Brazil always reacted with indignation to the frequently discriminatory treatment of its nationals in the United States and Europe," the daily Folha de S. Paulo noted in its editorial Wednesday. "But now it must prepare itself to receive in an adequate manner the new wave of immigrants."

Brazil makes it difficult for immigrants to secure work permits and residence visas. But until now it turned a blind eye to the arrival of immigrants from poorer countries and periodically granted them amnesties.

"It gives more opportunities to the poor and illegal immigrant than to the legal one to secure resident status or the work permit, the result of a policy based on solidarity with poor countries," said Stuenkel.

But the government's tougher visa policy "will not prevent other Haitians from entering illegally. When that happens, Brazil will again face the dilemma of whether to refuse them entry or expel them," said Salem Nasser, a professor of international law at FGV in Sao Paulo.


AFP/  Yana Marull

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