In 2013, as Syrians desperate to escape a brutal war fled the country, Brazil took the remarkable step of instituting an open-door policy for Syrian refugees. Why did Brazil—in contrast to much of the international community—offer asylum to any Syrian who would come? And how do their experiences differ from other refugee populations seeking status in Brazil?
The Color of Asylum offers an ethnographic look at the process of asylum seeking in Brazil, uncovering the different ways asylum seekers are treated and the racial logic behind their treatment. It focuses on two of the largest and most successful groups of asylum seekers: Syrian and Congolese refugees. While the groups obtain asylum in Brazil at roughly equivalent rates, their journey to that status could not be more different, with Congolese refugees enduring significantly greater difficulties at each stage, from arrival through to their treatment by Brazilian officials. Syrians, meanwhile, receive better treatment because the Brazilian state sees them as white, in a nation that has historically privileged white immigration. However, regardless of their country of origin, even migrants who do secure asylum status find their lives remain extremely difficult, marked by struggle and discrimination.