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How 108 Palestinian Refugees Are Coping with a New Life Start in Brazil

Arab refugees learn Portuguese - Sérgio Tomisaki/Agência Meios

During the last four and a half years, it was as if life had stopped. Those
who studied quit. Those who sang became silent. Those who worked discovered
idleness. The 108 Palestinians that arrived in Brazil in different groups, since
September, lived these last years in Ruweished, a Jordanian refugee camp in the
middle of the desert.

They settled 70 kilometers away from the border with Iraq, a country that they fled in 2003, due to the United States invasion. Despite the fact that the vast majority of them were born in Iraq, they never had Iraqi citizenship. Nonetheless, they went about their lives, although with some restrictions. When the government of Saddam Hussein fell, they had to flee, accused of being “pro-Saddam” by Shiite militias. And life was never the same again.


In the refugee camp, under protection of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they had no free transit. The houses were actually tarpaulin tents. Shoemakers, woodworkers, musicians, academicians, and professors became simply refugees.


Life went on through the TV set and the visits that they received. Some were separated from their families during that long period of time, such as Mrs. Rashida, 77 years old (read more about her story below). She reunited with her daughter and grandsons only when the time came to travel to Brazil. For many, the camp was similar to a prison, the only difference being the fact that instead of bars, there was a vastness of sand.


“Whenever they would go out shopping, everything was controlled. They would be accompanied by armed men, and had to shop quickly,” says Juliana Arantes Dominguez, one of the people in charge of the resettling of the Palestinians that are in the city of Mogi das Cruzes, in the interior of the southeastern Brazilian state of São Paulo.


She is a member of Cáritas, an NGO that is a partner with the UNHCR for the effort. “For obvious reasons, going to the supermarket became fun for them here in Mogi.” Many still call their houses tents. And others walk fast across the streets, as if there was still an escort behind them.


In Brazil, the group split into two: 52 followed to the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, where they were forwarded to cities such as Sapucaia do Sul, Pelotas, Rio Grande, Santa Maria, and Venâncio Aires. Eight single men who were supposed to go to the interior preferred to stay in the capital Porto Alegre.


In the South, the partnering NGO with the UNHCR is Associação Antônio Vieira (ASAV). Karin Wapechowski, project manager, explains that they all spend a week in the capital to undergo a medical and dental check-up, and also to learn a little more about the country, the state, and its inhabitants. “Despite a few complaints, they are on a honeymoon with Brazil. They never tire of giving thanks when it rains, for example,” says Karin.


The other members of the group, 56 people, are in Mogi das Cruzes, under the attention of Cáritas. Each NGO works in its own particular way, managing the funds sent by the UNHCR and seeking to cater to each person’s individual needs.


The teams at these NGOs are the ones that they call – all of the families have received cell phones – whenever they are feeling ill and want to go to a hospital, or if they are not satisfied with the size of the sofas that they have received. All of them, in the South and in São Paulo, are obliged to attend Portuguese lessons three times a week.


The perspective of coming to Brazil represents a new beginning to all of them. There are those who are disappointed about coming to Brazil, because they thought that they would go to English-speaking countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, which have also received refugees.


The older ones, almost all of them born in Palestine, cannot stand moving around so much any longer. The Portuguese language, so different from the Arabic, is still intimidating. The cooking pots, not as large as they are accustomed to, and the mirrors are too. The Brazilian habits are too relaxed, especially for the Muslims (the vast majority).


But in less than a month, they are already becoming integrated. In Rio Grande do Sul, the huge Palestinian colony in the state – estimated to include at least 30,000 people – is receiving their fellow countrymen with arms wide open. They help in translation, adaptation, and even offer jobs. In Mogi, not only the Arab and Muslim colony, but the city as a whole is putting effort into welcoming the new citizens.


And it was in Mogi that seven young Palestinians discovered that it is possible to entertain conversations with Brazilians even without speaking the same language. Through a common passion, football, the boys from there joined the boys from here and formed a team.


Twice Refugees


There are more than 10 million Palestinians in the world, taking into account the descendents of the first generations that left Palestine in 1947 and 1948, with the creation of the State of Israel, and in 1967, due to the Six-Day War. Of that total, 3.9 million are still living in Palestinian territories, and more than 1.3 million live in Israel.


According to the UN, 4.3 million are refugees and are spread throughout the world, especially in the neighboring Arab countries. In Jordan alone, there are 3 million Palestinians, including refugees and descendents. Outside of the Arab world, the largest Palestinian community is in Chile, where there are approximately 300,000 Palestinians.


The 108 refugees that came to Brazil are part of the Solidary Resettlement Program, implemented by the Brazilian government in partnership with the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The program focuses on relocating people who had already found refuge in a given country and, for some reason, were not able to stay. The program is recent in Brazil, and before the Palestinians, the only previous experience was with Colombians. Adding up Colombians and Palestinians, the program currently caters to 350 people.


In order to receive the Palestinians, the teams of the UNHCR and of the partnering NGOs had to learn about the culture and habits of the Arabs. Some are even studying the Arabic language. For two years, the refugees will receive financial aid and will have their house rents paid for.


According to Luis Varese, UNHCR representative in Brazil, the Higher Commissioner is the only UN agency that does not have a budget of its own, and counts exclusively on donations by countries and natural persons.


Besides Brazil, the UNHCR settled Palestinian refugees in Canada, New Zealand, and now Chile is preparing to receive a group of 100 people. “The work of the UNHCR caters to an universe of 32 million people. In Iraq alone, approximately 100,000 people leave the country every month,” said Varese.


Regarding the experience with the Palestinians in Brazil, Varese believes that it is too early to carry out a “scientific evaluation”. “But aside from disappointed reactions, which are natural, the feedback has been great. People are really satisfied.”


Dribbling Destiny


The field is a mixture of grass and mud. It is large and damp. It is a football field. When they tread on it, Mohamed, Ali and Mostafa run freely after the ball, sure that the desert, dry, hot camp where they spent their last four years has definitely been left behind them.


Mohamed, Mostafa and Ali are three of the 108 Palestinian refugees who came to Brazil over the last two months. They had been in Ruweished refugee camp, in Jordan, since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, where they used to live.


On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Mohamed, Mostafa and Ali are the only three Palestinian players to show up on the field. Of the Brazilians, those who show up are Jhony and the newcomer Rafael. The five players are part of Twister, an amateur football team from the city of Mogi das Cruzes, in the interior of the southeastern Brazilian state of São Paulo, established by coach Alexandre Aparecido Maciel early this year.


Between Arabic expressions and words in Portuguese, the language that prevails on the field is sign language. Or screams: he who shouts loudest gets the ball. It is there, amid the mud and sweat, that the war refugees and boys from the suburbs of Mogi learn how to understand each other and interact.


Jhony’s and Rafael’s eyes grow wide when their colleagues speak Arabic. Jhony, aged 16, did not even know that there was a place in the world called “Palestine”. It was coach Alexandre who explained who the “Palestinians” are and why they are there.


“It is very sad, isn’t it?”, summarizes Jhony, a boy who economizes on words but kicks the ball generously. Ali also wasn’t very clear about the situation of the boys from Mogi. One day, the coach took the young Palestinian to visit the slum where some of the 15 Brazilian players of the team live. The boy who was born and grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, was amazed.


Twister is like that: a team without football boots, shorts, balls and whistle. Those who do not have sneakers play barefoot. The snack offered after the game is bought by Alexandre himself and prepared by his mother. Alexandre converted to Islam three years ago and, since then, has been going to the mosque in the city.


In 2003, he established a women’s team, which operated until last year. From the female team, what was left was the name Twister and experience as a coach. It was at the mosque that Alexandre – who adopted Zaidd as his Muslim name – saw the Palestinians for the first time.


With the support of Sheikh Hosni, he invited the boys to play in the team. With the Sheikh, an Egyptian who has been in Brazil for six years, Alexandre has been learning Arabic. He now knows enough to give coordinates beside the field.


The boys practice four times a week, under sun or rain. And even when many are absent, as happened on the day we followed the practice, Alexandre is sure to give a practice. Strict, the coach does not tolerate swearwords, nor excessive slang on the field. Two Brazilians have already given up because they found him too strict.


Respect for others is the maxim on the field. The dirtiest Portuguese words are already recognized by the Palestinians, who soon classify them as “Haram! Haram!” (sin). “Three swearwords and the player is obliged to sign the book and wash the changing rooms alone,” explained the coach.


Ronaldinho from Baghdad


Ali Khaled Abu-Taha, aged 18, wears the green Twister shirt – which Alexandre had made for the group – and a pair of sneakers donated by the coach himself. During a pause in the practice, he collects the ball, kicks it up one, two, three, four times, and then kicks it far away, stretching his arms out like Ronaldinho Gaúcho. Ali screams: “Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho,” pointing at himself.


Football has accompanied Ali throughout his life as a refugee. He and Mostafa Khaled Qodsieh, who have known each other since the age of 11, when they studied together in Baghdad, have always run after a ball. Over the four and a half years they spent in the Ruweished refugee camp, in Jordan, it was playing football that the boys saw time go by.


In their open-air prison, in the middle of the desert, there was no freedom to come and go, there was no school, no routine of the times of Iraq. But there was a ball. “Mostafa, do you want to become a player?” “If God wishes it,” answers the boy, with a shy smile.


The dream soon makes way to reality. And Mostafa knows that, in reality, the priorities are others. Learning how to speak Portuguese and finding a job are some of them. “I can do anything,” he says in English. He, Ali and other adolescents will have to go back to school and make up for the time lost in Ruweished.


Mostafa is one of the most advanced in the Portuguese course. “He studied in a school for the gifted in Iraq. He has never got a grade below 95%,” explained Juliana Arantes Dominguez, from Cáritas.


Mohamed Mahomud Taleb, 24 years of age, is in a hurry. He has already lost too much time. With the money received as part of the Resettlement Program, he purchased his own football boots and a bicycle. He keeps as treasures the certificates of all the courses he took during his four years at the camp: tennis instructor and flower arranger. His specialty, however, is shoemaking. While he cannot start working in the area, he runs after the ball.


If the young Palestinians mix in with the Brazilians on the field, off the field they have also made friends. Mostafa has already taken some neighbors to visit the mosque. “In the first week, the residents of Mogi met them at supermarkets and wanted to hug them, help them, some were overwhelmed,” explained Juliana, who spends a large part of her time answering the requests of the Palestinians on her mobile phone. “Many people from outside Mogi also send e-mails asking how they can help, how to make donations and offer jobs,” she explained.


The new residents are already getting around the city, especially the younger ones. They go to the supermarket, take buses, and even look for jobs. Qades, Ali’s eldest brother, took his rudimentary Portuguese to a series of places looking for a job. He left a fast food restaurant with a promise of a position. To start working soon, all he needs is a work permit.


The Lebanese


The Arab colony in Mogi, by their own calculations, is the second largest in the city – losing only to the Japanese. Most of the Arabs there are Lebanese, people who arrived during the 20th century. Lebanese tradesman Mohamad Ahmad Saada, who has a chain of furniture shops, recalls that when he arrived in the city, in 1959, trade was dominated by his patricians. “At the time, the Japanese still lived in the countryside,” he recalls.


Saada was one of the great enthusiasts for the construction of the local mosque, which was completed in 2004, after 15 years in construction. “It took so long because we did not want anybody’s help, we did it all alone,” he explained.


And Saada is also one of those working on receiving the city’s new residents well. He has already been woken up in the middle of the night to take a pregnant woman who was sick to hospital. He also translates for the Palestinians.


Less than two months after the arrival of the first group of refugees, the city that has a population of 370,000 inhabitants in the interior of São Paulo has started gaining the status of new home to its 56 new residents.


The First Brazilian


The date scheduled is December 8th. Hoda Walid and her husband, Ahmad Abu-Ulla are anxious to see Ali’s face. The boy will be the first Brazilian in the group. When he is born, he will not have to wait six years to place a request for Brazilian citizenship.


The government of Brazil, on receiving the refugees, makes it possible for them to use public services like the Single Health System (SUS), social assistance programs, access to schools, etc. However they do not have political and military rights. Brazilian citizenship can only be asked for after six years residence.


Since she arrived, Hoda Walid has done her pre-natal exams religiously and proudly shows her pregnancy control card. Last week, soon after she arrived, Hoda went through a process of dilation and was sick late at night. Juliana, from Cáritas, was called.


As she was already in another city, she asked for an ambulance and guided the driver and doctor by telephone. Soon after, translators and city residents who could help in person showed up. Hoda’s sister was also pregnant, but her son arrived in Brazil at the age of 20 days.


Portuguese Lessons


Ghada Harati, a Lebanese who has been living in Brazil for 24 years, writes on a whiteboard all the components that make up a kitchen. The words sink, table, chairs and cooker are immediately copied by the five students. Ghada asks them to guess what each one of the items is.


She then asks them to repeat the words, in chorus. They soon start presenting difficulties. Pia (sink) becomes “paia”, due to English influences, believes teacher Ghada. Saying “geladeira” (fridge) is a challenge – some say “gueladeira”, others try to join it all together and something like “gedera” comes out.


“The ‘E’ sound does not exist in Arabic. Even saying the word ‘eu’ (I) is hard,” says Ghada. “Liquidificador” (blender) must be divided into two parts to simplify comprehension.


Ghada and teacher Fátima Shaker Agha, of Syrian origin, take turns teaching the four weekly Portuguese lessons that are given on three days, in the salon at the Mogi das Cruzes cathedral. The method adopted each class is to introduce basic vocabulary using thematic lessons. On the day we accompanied the lesson, the teacher spoke about what there is in a house.


To simplify it, the students write the pronunciation of the Portuguese words using Arabic letters. In some moments, the teacher is aware that some of the words used by the Palestinians are not the same as the ones she learnt in Lebanon. “In Iraq, they have words from Persian and Turkish origin, and many from English,” explained Ghada. When they do not understand, the teacher draws a picture and the doubt is clarified.


Ghada and Fátima’s students have a hard time learning – the language is very different, it is all brand new. Even so, after just a few weeks in Brazil, almost all of them already know the meaning of ‘obrigado’ (thank you), ‘boa tarde’ (good afternoon), ‘almoço’ (lunch), ‘eu’ (I), ‘bebê’ (baby), ‘aula de português’ (Portuguese lesson) and ‘jornalista’ (journalist).


The younger ones can even make up complete sentences like “eu jogo bola quatro vezes por semana” (I play football four times a week). Those who already know a little English find it easier due to the same script.


Portuguese lessons are compulsory for the refugees. It is the requirement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and of the NGOs that are partners in the project. Early next year, all the children and adolescents are going to school.


The ‘Brazilian Palestine’


Much faith in work. Such is the advice that Ahmad Ali, aged 74, gives to the Palestinian refugees who have just arrived in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. It was there, near the southern Brazilian border, that Ali went to escape the conflicts in Palestine in the late 1950s. Like him, many other Palestinians chose the state to try and start a new life.


Nowadays, it is estimated that 30,000 Palestinians and descendents live in the pampas (lowlands). To Ali, the figure may be much higher, at around 50,000. “Because many have distanced themselves from the community, therefore it is difficult to know for sure,” he explains. It is in this small piece of Palestine within Brazil that 52 of the 108 refugees who came to the country are living.


The group that headed to Rio Grande do Sul is distributed throughout six cities. Sapucaia do Sul, Pelotas, Rio Grande, Santa Maria, Venâncio Aires and Porto Alegre (the state capital) are municipalities that are already home to Palestinian communities. Sapucaia do Sul is home to the head offices of the Arab Palestinian Society of the Greater Porto Alegre, one of the organizations closely following the reception and integration of the refugees.


In Rio Grande do Sul, the NGO partnering with the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is Associação Antônio Vieira (ASAV). According to Karin Kaid Wapechowski, coordinator at the NGO, the local Palestinian community has been very helpful in welcoming the new inhabitants. “Many of them help us with translation, some merchants offer jobs. They are going to play key roles in this integration process,” she believes.


To Fátima Ahmad Ali, president at the Arab Palestinian Society of the Greater Porto Alegre, there is a commitment from those who are already established in the country to help those who arrive. “The responsibility is of the Brazilian government and the United Nations. But we, as Arab-Palestinians, show solidarity to the refugees, and are committed to helping them,” she says.


In all of the receptions for the refugees at the airport, a representative of the Society was present. They all were welcomed with dinner and activities held at the organization’s headquarters. “Now we are concerned with integrating them into the labor market,” she explains.


According to Karin, from ASAV, Ibrahim, aged 50, is already working at the store of a fellow countryman in Venâncio Aires. Another girl, Randa, aged 24, preferred to wait a while longer and learn to speak Portuguese well, and only then accept a job that was offered to her. “Most already get by quite well, they take buses, go to supermarkets and buy the items that they are familiar with,” says Karin.


“Our concern now is to warn them about the future. After the initial moment, the sort of honeymoon with the country and the cities, reality will start sinking in and they will start complaining,” says the coordinator of the program.


One of the concerns of Karin and her team is the domestic budget. Funds vary from one family to another. The head of the family receives a minimum wage, and the remaining members receive percentages of that amount.


“Most of them smoke too much. But here in Brazil, cigarettes are expensive. A time will come when they will have to decide whether they want to buy cigarettes or food,” she believes.


The NGO team also ends up getting involved in more private, personal issues, such as that of the families that spent the last four and a half years separated. In Rio Grande do Sul there are at least two cases of men who used to live in the Ruweished camp, in the middle of the Jordanian desert, while their wives lived with their children in another country.


And there is also the case of Mrs. Rashida, who stayed in Ruweished alone, and was the last to come to the country because she was waiting for her daughter and grandchildren, who lived in another refugee camp (read her story below).


Issam Mohamad is but one of those who reunited with his family hours before boarding to Brazil. For five years, he remained separated from his wife, Hannah, and his children Haisan, Mahrussa, and Diana. The wife and children lived in Egypt and Mohamad, in the refugee camp.


He also used to live in Egypt. But he went to Iraq to try and make a living and, six months later, the 2003 war began and he had to flee to escape persecution. The reunion also marks a new beginning. “We want a new life because the one we know is too hard,” he said the day he arrived in Brazil, at Guarulhos International Airport, in the city of São Paulo.


In Rio Grande do Sul there is a group of single men, some of them quite young, eager for opportunities and novelties. One of them is Issam Ali Hassam, 25 years old. He wishes to attend college in Brazil. In 2003, he was preparing to study Computing at college, in Baghdad, but he had to abandon everything and flee. His family stayed there. He plans to meet them via the Internet.


Parties, Language and Culture


The Arab Palestinian Society of the Greater Porto Alegre has been in operation since the 1960s. That is where the community meets up to party, to reunite, to show some of the Palestinian culture to Brazilians, and especially to preserve their cultural identification.


The president of the organization, Fátima Ali, is the daughter of Ali, the character at the beginning of this story. To her, the Society allows for third- or fourth-generation children and adolescents to keep in touch with the roots of their grandparents and great grandparents, and also for non-Arabs to get to know more about this universe.


There are six other Societies spread throughout other cities in Rio Grande do Sul in which there are large colonies. There is also the Federation of Brazilian Arab Palestinian Organizations (Fepal), which brings all of these groups together. The head office of Fepal is also located in Rio Grande do Sul. On November 29th, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Fepal intends to pay tribute to the new inhabitants of Brazil.


Chuí


Currently, the Palestinian colony in the state of Rio Grande do Sul is evenly spread throughout the state, including the large cities and the capital Porto Alegre. However, cities like Chuí, on the southern Brazilian border, are characterized by the strong Arab-Palestinian immigration.


According to Fátima Ali, one of the reasons is the strong trade that used to exist along the border, in which virtually every Arab newly-arrived in the country used to work. “But today it is different. The second and third generations attended universities, are self-employed professionals and went to live in the big cities,” says she, who graduated as a nurse.


Nevertheless, Chuí attracts so much attention that it has even become the theme of a doctoral thesis by anthropologist Denise Jardim, of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). In 2005, she interviewed 60 people from ten families in the city. There, the researcher realized that those families needed to maintain their traditions – even if just by watching the Arab channels broadcast on cable TV.


Rashida’s Saga


In all, she moved five times. At 77 years of age, Rashida Qassem Mahmoud has already left behind Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. She left her country still an adolescent, when the State of Israel was established. She remained in Lebanon for a short while.


In Syria she built her life, got married, had two children and, at 29 years of age, became a widow. Then she went to Iraq to try and make a living. In 2003, her fate coincided with that of the other Palestinians who came to Brazil: she fled her country, which had been invaded by the United States, and went to live in a camp in the Jordanian desert.


In four years at the camp, she went through two great hardships. The first one was living away from her daughter and her four grandchildren, who went to another refugee camp. The second was to watch her 42-year-old son die. “He died from worrying,” she sums up. Or of grief. He had a heart attack upon learning that he was not included in the group that was going to be received in Canada.


Small, but robust, Mrs. Rashida bears in her body the chapters of her story. The marks of the travels and setbacks are on her sullen face and in her near-toothless mouth. The veil that hides her hairs makes the blue of her eyes stand out. “When I became a widow, many men wanted to marry me,” she boasts, a glimpse of youth in her eyes.


Cheerful, fun and talkative, Rashida arrived in Brazil a week ago. She was the last one to leave the Ruweished camp, in Jordan, and the last to arrive in Brazil. She wanted to wait for her clan to come along. Together with her came her daughter, her four grandchildren, the wives of two of them and her great granddaughter, little Nivin, who turned two one day after arriving in the country.


When questioned as to if she would give an interview – after a near thirty-hour trip – she answers: “I am already used to it. The Brazilian journalists who interviewed me at the camp used to say that they would put my picture in newspapers across the country.”


Coming to Brazil has Rashida’s feelings mixed. In addition to being another change of country, it is the first time that she lays her feet on non-Arab ground, with a different language. “I am very saddened. At my age, it is not easy to migrate to such a different country. Will I be able to learn your language? Will I manage to adapt?” she asks. “In Iraq I had my retirement fund, a basic food basket every month,” she recalls.


“But I come at ease and leave it up to God. After all, here in Brazil we are going to have the most important thing of all: peace.” In a matter of seconds, she wipes away her tears, flashes a broad smile and concludes: “If I managed to raise two sons by myself when I was still young, now that I am more mature I will be able to overcome all of this”.


Open Arms


Working as the Palestinian ambassador to Brazil since January 2006, Mayada Bamie should leave her post in the country early next year. Before going, however, Mayada wants to visit the refugees who are living in the interior of the states of São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul.


The diplomat, who graduated in Political Sciences and Education from the American University of Beirut, started her career working with Palestinian refugees – in Lebanon. Since then, she has worked for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Mayada, who has been in diplomacy since 1977, was ambassador to Senegal before coming to Brazil.


About the Resettlement Program, an initiative of the government of Brazil and of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mayada praises all those involved. And she guarantees that Brazil is an excellent country to receive refugees.


“Brazil is the country of integration. Here, different cultures live in peace, in harmony,” she said, in an interview. “Brazil has opened its arms to a suffering people.”


She herself has lived the experience of several Palestinians. In 1948, when she was just two years old, her family was kicked out of Palestine. Read the interview with the ambassador below:


What is your evaluation of the Solidarity Resettlement program?


It is a good program. Those responsible – the UNHCR, Cáritas, Associação Antonio Vieira (Asav) and the government of Brazil – have found them homes and provided medical and dentistry evaluations. Their children are going to start going to school next year and they are already learning Portuguese.


I hope it works out, it is a great change for their lives, but it was a humane decision, they were running the risk of dying. But it is what I always say: it is a temporary solution. The definite solution would be their return to Palestine – a right that they have had since 1948, after UN resolution 194, which was never complied with.


Have you been accompanying their daily life in Brazil?


Yes. I speak to the Palestinian community that is receiving and helping the refugees. They tell me what is happening both in Rio Grande do Sul and in São Paulo. And I make suggestions.


Have you already or do you plan to visit them?


I am planning a visit to Rio Grande do Sul and Mogi das Cruzes in December. I was just waiting for them all to arrive to schedule the visit. As the last group arrived last week, I can already program it. On November 29, The International Day of Solidarity to the Palestinian People, we are going to have a celebration at the Lower House, in Brazilian capital Brasília. And on the 30th, at the Legislative Assembly in the state of São Paulo. We want to invite some refugees to participate in these events, to make their statements. We want to make use of the date to honor them. We are going to ask the UNHCR for permission for that.


May the refugees ask for the assistance of the Embassy in case of problems?


At the moment they must ask the UNHCR for help, as they are here under the care of the UN. But after a while, when they are already integrated, then we will be able to help more. But of course as the representatives of Palestine, of president Mahmoud Abbas, of the Palestine Liberation Organization and of Palestinian authorities in general. I feel myself responsible for them. That is why I have been following the UNHCR work closely. And they (the UNHCR and NGOs) know they can count on the embassy.


Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and Chile have received or are going to receive refugees. Is Brazil, with language and customs that are so different from those of the Arabs in general, a good country to receive Palestinian refugees?


Brazil is the country of integration. Different cultures live here in peace, in harmony. Even without knowing the Portuguese language, the care and reception granted by Brazilians are fundamental for them. Brazil has opened its arms to a suffering people. The language may be learnt with time. The language of the heart, however, the friendship, that is what is important now.


You will be leaving Brazil soon. Where are you going?


I am going to Palestine. I am going to retire – because the law says it is now time. But I am not going to stop fighting for my people.


Anba – www.anba.com.br

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