John Ekow from Ghana harbored a dream of reaching the U.S. shores when he embarked on a perilous journey as a stowaway on a ship from the Ivory Coast. He clung to life drinking his own urine in the heart of the Atlantic. However, a twist awaited him: the ship’s destination was Brazil, not the U.S.
The world is witnessing an unprecedented number of displacements, the UN reports, attributing it to crises in regions like Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela. However, Brazil is experiencing a unique challenge. An emerging group of African migrants is undertaking a treacherous 2,000-mile voyage from West Africa, mistakenly believing their ships are Europe or U.S.-bound. Some claim deceitful gangs in West Africa misled them onto these ships, often positioning them precariously behind the ship’s rudder.
“It’s a narrative we’ve been hearing more often lately,” comments Paolo Parise, a priest at São Paulo’s Peace Mission refugee shelter. He has witnessed an influx of these “misdirected migrants” from Africa in recent years.
Data from the Brazilian navy indicates 234 African stowaways arrived in Brazil from 2006 to 2017, and they believe many more might have evaded detection. The increase in African migration, largely via flights, to Brazil is palpable. In the first half of this year alone, over 42,634 Africans entered the country, doubling the numbers from two years prior. Most find their way to São Paulo, Brazil’s bustling metropolis. Here, many from nations like Angola grapple with unemployment and homelessness.
Migrants like Ekow, who land unintentionally in Brazil, face enormous challenges, navigating a new culture without even basic linguistic familiarity. Recounting his ordeal, Ekow speaks of the harrowing seven-day journey from the Ivory Coast on a noisy ship, surviving on dwindling rations and battling despair, only to discover they’d arrived in Macapá, Brazil.
While the precise number of such accidental migrants remains elusive, tales of their hardship frequently emerge. Some migrants are abandoned by ship captains, while others, like Thankgod Yeye, are deceived about their ship’s destination. Yeye reveals the desperation during his journey, culminating in an unexpected Brazilian arrival after they ran out of food and survived on toothpaste.
Parise’s mission extends beyond shelter. He warns migrants of the perils of another risky voyage to the U.S. Many heed his advice, while others take the gamble.
In São Paulo’s Reggae Gallery, Mary Beny from Angola shares her struggles but acknowledges the relative safety Brazil offers. As a refuge from a turbulent homeland, Brazil might not be the dream destination for many, but it offers a chance at a new life.