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A murder on a beach in Rio de Janeiro exposes racism against African immigrants in Brazil

The beating murder of a Congolese on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, days ago, caused a stir in Brazil and brutally showed the racism that African immigrants endure in that country, where the black population is the majority.

“I’m thinking of leaving Brazil. After what happened with Moïse, I’m afraid for my children,” Sagrace Lembe Menga, 33, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), told the AFP agency, referring to Moïse Kabagambe, assassinated on January 24.

The 24-year-old was beaten to death with a stick and a baseball bat after an argument that, according to the family, originated when he demanded a late payment from the manager of the beach bar where he worked as a day laborer, in the exclusive neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca, in Rio.

Like Kabagambe, Lembe Menga also left his country in search of “peace and tranquility”, to flee “war and massacres”.

“I had heard that in Brazil people are received with open arms. And it is true that they received me very well when I arrived” in 2015, says Lembe Menga, a hairdresser with long braids.

A protest in Rio de Janeiro, following the death of Congolese immigrant Moïse Kabagambe, at the end of January. Photo: EFE

But he was not saved from racismespecially in your workplace. “Some treat me as if I were an insignificant person, an animal. They have already asked me if I live among giraffes,” summarizes this mother of two children, ages 8 and 3, who has refugee status.

Refugees and discriminated

According to Brazilian government figures, 1,050 of the country’s 57,000 refugees are from the DRC, the third largest contingent after Venezuela and Syria.

The average salary of a Congolese in Brazil is 1,862 reais per month (about 351 dollars at current exchange rates), an amount lower than the average of African immigrants (2,698 reais or 510 dollars) and above all the general average of all immigrants. immigrants (4,878 reais or 922 dollars), according to the International Migration Observatory.

Many of them live in vulnerable neighborhoods dominated by drug traffickers.

In total, some 35,000 African immigrants live in Brazil, but specialists believe that the official statistics are underestimated.

Brazil is also home to a large number of Haitian immigrants (more than 150,000) who, like the Congolese, are among the lowest paid.

A protest against police violence in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, last May.  Photo: AP

A protest against police violence in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, last May. Photo: AP

“If I had to recount all the episodes of racism that I was a victim of, we could fill a book,” laments Elisée Mpembele, a 23-year-old Congolese singer who arrived in Brazil in 2013.

“People look at me with a different face; the security guards follow me inside the supermarket. Recently, I went to ask the police for information and they ended up registering me and asking me if I was a criminal,” he says.

Due to the “lack of opportunities” to make a living from his art, he often has to do odd jobs to make ends meet.

“wicked racism”

For Bas’llele Malomalo, a specialist in migration between Africa and Brazil at the University of International Integration and Afro-Brazilian Lusofonia (Unilab), racism in Brazil “is all the more perverse because 55% of Brazilians are black” or mestizo.

Only Nigeria has a black population greater than the Brazilian population in the world.

“The integration problems of African immigrants are rooted in the same problems encountered by former slaves, who were still seen as objects or animals at the time of the abolition” of slavery, in 1888.

In a country where a recent study shows that 77% of homicide victims in Brazil in 2019 were black people, African migrants like Moïse Kabagambe are even more vulnerable “because in the minds of racists, as a foreigner, no one is going to defend it,” insists Malomalo.

“If someone bothers me, I prefer to keep my head down to avoid trouble,” said Modou Fall, a 34-year-old Senegalese man who sells sunglasses on Copacabana beach.

Rui Mucaje, president of the Afro-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (AfroChamber), explains that many African immigrants arrive in Brazil with an “entrepreneurial spirit”, in particular to sell African clothes or fabrics, but most remain limited “to the informal sector”.

“It’s also not uncommon to see people with a degree who end up working in jobs that require much less qualification,” he says.

For Mucaje, the murder of Moïse Kabagambe is “the tragic materialization of the problems caused by racism in Brazil.”

The author is an AFP journalist

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