The Journey of Four Stowaways: Desperation, Survival, and Hope in Brazil
The four stowaways who boarded a cargo ship had no clue where they would end up when they were intercepted by federal police officers at a Brazilian port last month. The news that they had arrived in Brazil left them stunned, as they had hopped onto the ship while it was docked in Lagos, the bustling city in Nigeria. Their motivation? Unemployment and a desperate search for better opportunities. Despite the uncertainty of their destination, they climbed into a small opening housing the rudder of the ship, enduring a treacherous 14-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
Struggles at Sea
The stowaways, recounting their harrowing journey to The New York Times, described the grueling conditions they faced. They relied on prayer to overcome their fear and survived on toothpaste and seawater as their food and water supplies dwindled. At times, they even encountered sharks. The constant threat of falling into the water beneath them, coupled with the physical discomfort of clinging to cold metal, made their journey a true test of endurance.
Unaware of Their Destination
It was only upon the arrival of the federal police that the stowaways realized they had reached Brazil. The chief of the federal police’s maritime division in Espírito Santo, Rogerio Lages, recalled the shocked expressions on their faces when they were informed of their location. The authorities had been alerted by another boat, ferrying fresh crew members to the cargo ship, who had spotted the migrants on the rudder and called for help.
Reasons for Leaving Nigeria
The two stowaways who decided to stay in Brazil, Roman Ebimene Friday and Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye, shared their motivations for leaving Nigeria. Friday had been jobless in Lagos for almost two years, trying to support his widowed mother and three younger siblings. Yeye, on the other hand, faced devastation as his peanut and palm oil farm was ruined by floods, leaving his family homeless and hungry. Both men saw leaving Nigeria as their only option for a better future.
The Challenges Facing Nigerians
Nigeria has been grappling with various crises, including an Islamist insurgency, kidnappings, and conflicts between farmers and herders. These challenges have resulted in widespread unemployment and prompted many Nigerians to seek refuge abroad. According to the Center for Global Development, the number of migrants from Nigeria tripled between 2009 and 2019. By the end of 2020, Nigeria ranked among the top 10 countries with the largest number of people living abroad.
The Brazilian Haven
Brazil has been a significant destination for migrants from Latin America and beyond. It has granted permanent asylum to nearly 100,000 refugees since 2018, making it the leading country in the region for doing so. Migrants in Brazil are entitled to equal treatment and access to government services, even without documentation. South Americans are automatically eligible to apply for Brazilian residency. The country has also provided a safe haven for migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Angola, and Congo.
Challenges for African Migrants in Brazil
While Brazil welcomes migrants, African immigrants face significant challenges upon arrival. Data from Brazil’s International Migration Observatory reveals that, on average, African immigrants earn significantly less than their European counterparts. Many Europeans come to Brazil with job prospects already lined up, whereas Africans often arrive without any opportunities. Racism and xenophobia in Brazilian society further compound the challenges faced by black migrants and refugees.
Hope for a New Life
Despite the difficulties they have faced, Friday and Yeye are grateful for their unexpected arrival in Brazil. They have received work permits, and their next step is finding employment to support themselves and their families. Both men express their desire to make Brazil their new home, and they have found support and guidance at a migrant shelter in São Paulo. The warmth and kindness of Brazilians have left a positive impression on them.
The journey of these stowaways symbolizes the desperation, resilience, and hope of migrants seeking better lives. Although their path was arduous, they now have an opportunity to build a brighter future in a country that offers them refuge and support.
Reporting by Dionne Searcey from Dakar, Senegal.