Thousands of Haitians left their country in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. While many fled to the United States, others made the arduous journey south to Brazil. But after letting in more than 4,000 Haitian migrants, Brazil has toughened its immigration policy. Meanwhile, hundreds more wait at its border for the chance to get in.
Just after dawn in the Peruvian town of Inapari, a few Haitians prayed by the Acre River in the Amazon. They shared a book called “Songs of Hope.”
Ahead of them, just past the muddy river, stretches Brazil.
“This is our problem,” said Wisnel Amisial, one of 100 Haitians stuck in this quiet border town. “Brazil still hasn’t accepted us, still hasn’t given us visas. But we are still waiting, with hope.”
Amisial says life in Haiti is hard. He’s traveled through four countries to get here. More than 4,000 Haitians have moved to Brazil since the devastating earthquake there in January 2010.
Brazil is now the world’s sixth largest economy, and it’s struggling to create an immigration policy. It’s been alternately closing and opening its borders to Haitians as it tries to balance humanitarian concerns with a selective approach to migrants.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Haitians wait on the border.
“We came here more than two months ago,” Amisial said. “But we don’t like it here. We do not live well here.”
Most of the Haitians in Inapari are bunking in an empty government building.
“This is the house where we live,” said Junior Saint Jean.
It’s a few bare rooms where the migrants sleep in rows on the floor. Rice and bananas cook over a fire in the overgrown yard.
The Haitians say they paid smugglers more than $3,000 to get here. They were promised it would be easy to go to Brazil once they arrived. Now, they tell relatives not to come.
“Because in the 21st century, human beings shouldn’t live like this,” Saint Jean said. “I know what rights human beings have.”
Damiao Borges, an official for a government-run human rights agency, shows up to check on the migrants. He asks how the migrants are doing. Saint Jean tells him they feel desperate.
“The government of Brazil doesn’t want to let them come in anymore,” Borges said. “This is a big problem.”
In January, Brazil announced it would only admit 100 Haitians and that they had to fly directly from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The idea was to attract more professionals and fewer unskilled immigrants, and to discourage people from taking the dangerous land journey.
But Haitians kept showing up.
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