Haitians bound for Brazil languish in Peru's Amazon

Wed Feb 8, 2012 2:48pm EST
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By Caroline Stauffer

INAPARI, Peru (Reuters) - Nearly 300 Haitians fleeing the poverty of their earthquake-ravaged homeland have been stuck for a month in the Peruvian Amazon, where a gate to what they saw as a better life in Brazil has abruptly closed.

Mostly educated and in their 20s, they have taken refuge in a stuffy church in the Peruvian border town of Inapari since Brazil stationed federal police along the border in early January to stop a wave of illegal immigration.

The 273 Haitians in Inapari sold all their belongings and paid big fees to unscrupulous travel agents to fly to Peru through Panama or Ecuador. They planned to cross overland into Brazil, where a growing economy has attracted some 4,500 desperate Haitians since the quake two years ago - only to find that the border was closed when they arrived.

"We don't have money and we are so far from Haiti ... we just ask Brazil to let us in," said Joniel Clervil, 22, speaking in English he learned in university before the January 2010 disaster ended his studies.

Having run out of cash, the group is relying on donations of rice and beans from the Brazilian border town of Assis Brasil. It is not clear if they will eventually be able to stay in Brazil or Peru or be deported.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, in an attempt to manage the influx and discourage "coyotes" who take advantage of the immigrants, said during a visit to Haiti on February 1 that her country would award 100 humanitarian visas per month in Port-au-Prince in the next five years while tightening border security.

Brazil also has said it would give humanitarian visas to all Haitians already in Brazil but that future migrants would be turned back at the border unless they had obtained proper visas before leaving Haiti.


<p>Haitian immigrants sleep at a church in Inapari, at Peru's border with Brazil, February 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo</p>