When Babette Geurink, a Dutch researcher, mined Irish academic literature on belonging, she found little research on Brazilians.
She had been researching the biggest migrant groups in Ireland, she says. “And then, of course, Brazilians showed up, like, as a very high number.”
In 2016, there were 13,640 Brazilians living in Ireland, say census figures. Of those, 7,400 were in Dublin.
She planned to read up on that. “But Brazilians were a bit less-researched, I would say, compared to Polish or Lithuanians or Nigerians,” says Geurink.
It was surprising, she says, given their population.
She mentioned it to a colleague at the New Communities Partnership, a non-profit in the city who told her, she says, that the partnership doesn’t hear from many Brazilians asking for support.
“He thought maybe it was a cultural thing,” said Geurink, on a Zoom call last week, as she isolated at her home in Stoneybatter.
Geurink settled in to research Brazilians’ senses of belonging because it’s always been a notion of interest, and an important part of her field of human geography, she says.
Geurink’s research looks at how living conditions in different neighbourhoods shape Dubliner Brazilians’ sense of belonging.
In her early research, though, immigration issues have cropped up most when interviewees talk about why they struggle to feel at home in Dublin, she says. “I felt that they have kind of accepted the housing situation.”
But she doesn’t have a clear picture yet, she says, and is looking to talk to more people.
Othering Immigration Problems
Geurink’s research will feed into her master’s thesis, she says.
She’s doing an MA in human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Her internship at New Communities Partnership is tied to that, she says.
The idea is to explore housing conditions and how different neighbourhoods can entrap migrants into a feeling of otherness, says Geurink.
“My basic research question is about ethnic residential segregation, but so far I didn’t find anything residential-wise,” says Geurink.
Interviewees have said that living conditions are bad, but they’ve grown used to them to the point that they don’t pose a barrier to integration, she says.
“But maybe I need to speak to people who have just arrived for the first time and living in very shady places,” said Geurink.
The refrain she hears most, she says, is about immigration issues and the barriers in securing work permits that leave them struggling to find their feet.
Working minimum wage jobs despite being highly educated has also cropped up in Geurink’s conversations with her Brazilians subjects so far.
“Because a lot of them are highly educated in Brazil but here they do jobs that low-educated people do,” says Geurink.
“Like one of them had a pharmacy degree and even a postdoc in Brazil and is doing customer service here,” she said.
One-fifth of Ireland’s Brazilian population worked in the accommodation and food service industries in 2016, according to census figures.
“Kitchen and catering assistants, wait staff, and chefs were prevalent occupations among Brazilians within this industry,” says the CSO’s website.
People have told Geurink that it’s easier to lower one’s guard and melt into Irish society with European papers.
“Like two Brazilian people I talked to had Italian citizenship and they said that it was easier for them,” said Geurink.
It means no one scrutinises their papers at the border. They’re let in, no questions asked, which makes them feel like they’re accepted, she says.
“Because when you go to security check and even you’re still Brazilian, you’re still the same person, but the paper says you’re Italian, then you’re a good person,” says Geurink.
Her lecturer calls passports “paper borders”, she says, smiling. “And you’re born into them, and I always say I was very lucky that I was born into a Dutch passport.”
Trying to Connect
The handful of Brazilians that Geurink has spoken to so far have said they struggle to build meaningful friendships with their Irish neighbours.
“They said, the people are okay, but I’m not hanging out with my neighbours,” said Geurink.
“Most of their friends were still Brazilians or other nationalities, or they had some Irish friends but not in their neighbourhoods,” she says.
The connection was there, she says. “But like at the basic level.”
“Like they said, if I need something or if I need to go to the hospital if I call them, they would probably help me, but a very, deeper connection wasn’t there,” said Geurink.
People she has spoken to so far have told her they’re not planning to stay, she says. “They said that they’d go back to Brazil or move into another European country.”
Geurink has hopes that her research will contribute to something positive, helping to highlight what causes Brazilian migrants to feel out of place.
“I just want to see how Brazilians are experiencing their lives in Ireland and how it can be improved because of course some things can be improved,” she said.
To participate in Geurink’s study and arrange a chat, contact her at [email protected]