For These Palestinian Refugees Brazil Has Become the Promised Land

Santa Maria in the Brazilian SouthHana Teisir, 20, works at one of the main beauty parlors in the small city of Santa Maria, 286 kilometers away from Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the Brazilian South. Along with her sister, Handa, she does threading, an epilation technique that is less harmful to the skin.

The siblings learned the beauty treatment in Iraq, where they were born, after their parents fled Palestine due to the establishment of Israel.

The sisters arrived in Brazil in 2007, in a group of 108 Palestinian refugees brought by the Solidarity Resettlement Program, implemented by the Brazilian government with support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

For Hana, the most difficult part of adapting to the country was the language, which is very different from Arabic. However, after three months in the country, she was already working. She took a manicure course and got a job at the salon. Presently, she has over 40 clients and wants to stay in Brazil, which she considers to be a “beautiful, liberal, unprejudiced country.”

In the city of Sapucaia do Sul, 19 kilometers off the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the couple Faez Abbas and Salha Nassar run a deli and bakery specializing in Arab sweets and bread. The sale of the products supplements the grant that they earn from the Solidarity Resettlement Program.

With the money, they have already managed to buy an industrial oven, and six months ago, they were given stoves, cake pans and packaging for their production, which they sell to the Palestinian community in their city and also to markets in neighboring cities.

The couple, which was born in Haifa (currently an Israeli territory), lived in the Ruweished refugee camp, in Jordan, for four years, after having fled Iraq together in 2003, because of the United States invasion.

Salha claims that she had no problem adapting to Brazil. When asked about what she likes the most about the country, she promptly replies: “The Brazilian people, who love peace.” She explains that she would like to be able to return to Palestine in order to visit her children, who she has not seen in seven years.

During the last edition of the World Social Forum, Salha and her husband ran a stand that sold snacks and biscuits at Casa da Palestina (House of Palestine), in the city of Canoas (state of Rio Grande do Sul), a space featuring handicraft, music, clothing and films on the history of the Palestinian people.

In Brazil for 40 years, the Palestinian Najah Samara Al Khatib helps the refugees who arrive in the region of Santa Maria to adapt. She works as an integration agent for Associação Antônio Vieira (ASAV), The UNHCR’s partner non-government organization in charge of providing aid to refugees in the South of the country.

She arrived in the country when she was 10, after her parents had come. Najah says that her grandparents decided not to send her to Brazil earlier so that she would not forget the Arabic language. Currently, one of her assignments is to work as a translator for refugees who still do not speak Portuguese fluently.

“I love Brazil. It is a wonderful country, there is no racism. We have freedom. It is a country that welcomes all races.” Here, she also met her husband, who is also a Palestinian and a refugee.

Now, with five children, she claims that she maintains the traditions of her homeland. “We never allow our roots to die,” says Najah, who also believes that one day she will be able to return to her native country. “We always hope Palestine will be ours again.”

Anba

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