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Some Haitians who fled to Brazil years ago, want to make the journey to the U.S.


The number of Haitian migrants trying to cross the U.S. border into Texas has fallen off, but they are still coming across. Many come from Chile, but others make the perilous journey north from Brazil.

Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.




PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: As the sun sets over Rio de Janeiro, some Baptists are gathered in a school for their Sunday service. Yet the singing wafting from their building is not in Portuguese, Brazil's national language, but Creole.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Creole).

REEVES: These men, women and children are Haitians. They're among several hundred thousand who moved to Brazil over the last decade or so to escape poverty, violence and political turmoil back home.

Luckner Guerrier is in this congregation. He says many Haitians are on the move again...

LUCKNER GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...And even now are heading for the United States. Guerrier came to Rio nearly eight years ago to study medicine. Paying for his studies is a struggle. He's waited tables and been a vendor on Copacabana Beach. These days, he helps Haitians acquire documents allowing them to work here legally.

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Sometimes Haitians can't get jobs because they don't speak Portuguese," he says.

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Sometimes they get hired only to suffer discrimination because they're Black and poor." Yet Guerrier's advice to Haitians in Brazil is...

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Stay here. Don't go to the United States."

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "People are dying in the forest on the way," he says. Images of Haitians being menaced by U.S. border guards on horseback horrified Guerrier.

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I'm very sad this can happen in the 21st century," he says.

PAOLO PARISE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Father Paolo Parise runs the Peace Mission in the city of Sao Paulo. It provides shelter and support to migrants. He confirms Haitians are still setting off for the U.S. "Most leave without warning," he says. "They travel by road to Acre, a Brazilian state in the Amazon rainforest, and cross into Peru," says Father Paolo.

PARISE: (Through interpreter) We're seeing people getting organized. I've asked them, what about those pictures on TV? They reply, we're still going to try. It's worth the risk to have the chance of a better life.

REEVES: Thirty-three thousand Haitians have passed through the mission's doors since they first started arriving after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Life in Brazil is even harder now, says Father Paolo.

PARISE: (Through interpreter) I've never seen immigrants experiencing the hunger and the needs that I'm seeing at the moment.

REEVES: "Unemployment is around 14%, and the price of basic foods has soared," says Laura Lopes...

LAURA LOPES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "...Making it even more difficult to survive during the pandemic." Lopes is from Adus, an aid agency supporting migrants in Brazil. She says when she asks Haitians why they're leaving for the U.S. - why now? - they give one reason above all others...

LOPES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...The election of President Joe Biden. They still believe under Biden, it'll be easier to get in.


REEVES: Luckner Guerrier from the Baptist congregation is taking NPR to meet some fellow Haitians in Rio. He's volunteered to translate.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: We arrive in the crowded and down-at-heel neighborhood of Taquara.


REEVES: Rosemanie Etienne is selling cheap Chinese-made clothes from a stall. She arrived from Haiti 2 1/2 years ago with her kids - one who's now 10 and twins, age 5. Business is terrible these days, says Etienne.

ETIENNE: (Speaking Creole).

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "In the last few months, she's hardly made any sales. It's hard to find money to feed the kids."

ETIENNE: (Speaking Creole).

REEVES: Etienne says, sometimes she goes to the market and can't afford a single sardine. As for that perilous journey to the U.S...

ETIENNE: (Speaking Creole).

GUERRIER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "She says she can't afford it." But if she had the money, Etienne says, she'd certainly be on her way.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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