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Haitian Immigrants Struggle To Find Their Way In Brazil

While some from the poor island nation still dream of emigrating to the US, others see a new promised land in Brazil. Still they face many challenges when they arrive.

to Many Haitians arrive to Brazil by land, without a visa, hiring “coyotes” to cross the border
to Many Haitians arrive to Brazil by land, without a visa, hiring “coyotes” to cross the border
Valmar Hupsel Filho

SÃO PAULO - Elysee Augustin is a 37-year-old from Haiti with an undergraduate degree in sociology, who was studying for his Master's in anthropology in the neighboring Dominican Republic before he headed south to find his fortune in Brazil.

Jean Denis Alaime, 29, also Haitian, studied industrial engineering. Both speak English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Creole.

But now the two are among a growing number of undocumented Haitian immigrants who have wound up homeless on the streets of São Paulo. The group of around 100 was recently evicted from a building they were renting, without knowing that they were actually residing there illegally. The rent was 350 reais per room ($175), with some rooms hardly bigger than the size of a double bed.

Only when they received their eviction order last week did they learn that the property has been in litigation for the past 15 years and that they were occupying it illegally.

After a judicial decision was finally handed down, police were sent to evict the building’s occupants – aged 13 to 40. All of them had been looking for jobs and were getting on thanks to money sent by their families. Only three of them speak Portuguese – heavily accented. Several are illiterate.

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Haitian immigrants in the Brazilian state of Acre - Photo: Agência de Notícias do Acre

The majority arrived to Brazil by land, without a visa, hiring “coyotes” to cross the border. The itinerary includes stops in Panama and Ecuador, before crossing over into northern Brazil.

In São Paulo, the Haitians paid rent to a man called “Marcos,” who was responsible for paying water and energy bills for them. He had transformed a large hall into 26 “rooms,” each of which he sublet to the Haitians. Two months ago, the man disappeared. Without electricity or hot water, the Haitians had to share two bathrooms, one of which had no faucet in the sink.

The strong odor reveals the difficulty in maintaining hygiene in such a place. While we were there, a rat ran across the room.

Choosing Brazil over the U.S.

Only four of these undocumented immigrants are women, all of them unemployed. One found a job, but was soon fired. “Not being able to speak Portuguese is the biggest problem,” says Darvil Syna, 27, who arrived in Brazil four months ago.

Despite the problems, she wants to stay and earn enough money to bring the rest of her family. “In Haiti, only those who support the government can find a job,” she says.

While the language barrier is the main challenge for these Haitian immigrants, Augustin and Alaime are the exception. Instead of using coyotes, they traveled by plane, paying $2,500 for a ticket from Haiti to Panama.

Augustin says he chose Brazil over the U.S. for ideological reasons. “Americans have harmed the Haitian people,” he says. Now he helps other Haitians immigrants by teaching them Portuguese and giving advice on how to get documents and look for a job. “In Haiti, I was a sociologist, but here the best I could get was to be become the manager of a McDonald's,” he says.

For Alaime it is the same. In Haiti, he was teaching languages, but in Brazil he could only find work as an assistant in a company. He thinks of going back to Haiti to study some more. “I have to check the market and find out what kind of professionals Brazil needs.”

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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