Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

‘The police showed up at our house’

Nine women lay bare why they went to Brazil and what they experienced once they got there. Not all migration stories are the same.

18 March 2021, 5.30am
Provided by author. All rights reserved.

In Congo I never had a proper job, because I was studying there. I looked for work after I finished high school, but even with my father helping me out finding work in Congo is very difficult. My mother had left for Angola and I had stayed with my father. When my father died, I decided to follow my mother’s path to Angola.

I found my mother when I had arrived in Angola, she had another husband. My stepfather was a taxi driver and there were some disputes going on between the government and the drivers. My stepfather was the one who had organised the taxi drivers’ group against the government.

The police showed up at our house. There were bullets everywhere. My stepfather ran away. My mother ran away. Later they caught my stepfather, and I still don't know where my mother is. I never heard from her again. I ran to Benguela and stayed there for a while before returning home. Then, I managed to come to Brazil.

I’ve also never worked in a proper job in Brazil. I have been looking for jobs since I got here. Sometimes I get an interview, but in the end they never call back. I lived in the migrant’s shelter when I arrived here, but you can only stay there for a limited time so I had to leave. I had no money to eat, so I started selling stuff on the street and getting by with whatever I got. Just before the pandemic started the police came and took my merchandise because I didn’t have a permit. I don’t have anything to sell anymore.

You always hear that Africans are coming here to dirty their country.

Racism! People and the police tell me all the time that Brazil isn’t my country, and that I should go back to my country. Sometimes the police also hit us. I have a video showing a Brazilian police officer punching a Congolese girl. She fainted. In my country there is no racism, but I lived in Angola for five years before coming to Brazil and there is racism there. It’s too much, it’s worse than here. In Angola, the Congolese have no right to work. No right to live. Every day the police enter houses and hospitals to catch Congolese people. If you don’t have documents, they send you back.

In Brazil, when you look for a job in some off license or a bar, they say, “We prefer Brazilian only, we dislike Africans.” Or when you are on the subway and a Brazilian stares at you badly, and tries to intimidate you. You always hear that Africans are coming here to dirty their country. Sometimes you just walk past someone on the street and they say something to you out of the blue. It is shocking!

Another important thing that restricts our freedom is gender violence. In my country there is a lot of violence against women. A man can hit a woman at his will in the middle of the street –whoever he wants, even his mother. Sometimes he doesn’t even know you. The police don’t protect you from that. They protect the NGO people who go to our country – as if we were going to attack these people who come from outside – but we are the ones suffering and we don’t receive the protection of the police. People who get protection are the ones with money. Who has money has power, right?

There are no discussions about gender or sexuality there. In Congo people are all the time calling you a fag or a whore. Children grow up with those words in their mouth. In Angola it is more common to see people of the same sex relating to each other, but in the Congo, if you are lesbian or gay you have to do it secretly. If you come out, they’ll be all over you. If you wear short clothes, they will be messing with you on the streets.

G. L., Five years in Brazil

This series has been financially supported by Humanity United.


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