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With Fear of Ebola, Senegalese Lie to Avoid Being Barred at Brazil Border

09/15/2014 - 09h12

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PATRÍCIA BRITTO
SPECIAL ENVOY TO RIO BRANCO

Faced with the fear of having their entry into Brazil refused due to concerns about the Ebola virus, Senegalese immigrants have identified themselves as Haitians at the border of Acre with Bolivia and Peru, the Senegalese told Folha.

The Ebola outbreak has already caused more than 2,000 deaths in West African countries this year, especially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Senegal, only one case has been confirmed.

But immigrants from the country housed in a shelter in Rio Branco maintained by the Acre government confirmed that Federal Police officers have made it difficult for all Africans to enter Brazil.

The Federal Police was contacted, but did not respond. On Wednesday (10), after a report in "O Globo" claimed Africans were being barred at the border, the institution said in a statement that there is no guideline to restrict access to immigrants from the continent to Brazil.

"We said that we are Haitians. If we say we are from Senegal, everyone would go back," a 29-year-old, who asked not to be identified, told Folha.

According to him, black skin and a French accent - similar to the Creole spoken by Haitians - helps to confuse nationalities.

The young man says he intends to go to Passo Fundo (RS) to work in the textile industry.

He said that when he had to pass through the Federal Police at the Assis Brasil border (340 km from Rio Branco) with Bolivia and Peru, the Senegalese said they were Haitians who lost their documents while traveling.

This way, they were able to enter the country and head to the shelter in Acre's capital city.

The coordinator of the State Department of Justice and Human Rights, Ruscelino Barbosa, who runs the accommodations in Rio Branco, said that the State has identified "three or four" cases of Senegalese who pretended to be Haitian. According to him, when they are found out, the Federal Police is advised.

"They are instructed to say they lost their documents. As many are extorted during the trip, the Federal Police allow them to head to the shelter. Once there, the documents 'appear' and they complete the process of requesting a visa normally," said the coordinator.

According to him, there is no suspicion of Ebola in the shelter yet.

Acre asked the federal government to strengthen staff prepared to prevent the entry of Ebola into the country, but up until Thursday (11), the routine at the immigrant shelter in Rio Branco had not changed.

There are no medical assessments for newcomers.

The Senegalese arrive in Brazil by the same route used by Haitians, passing through Ecuador and Peru, on trips brokered by coyotes. To get to Ecuador, the trip is made by plane from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, with layovers in Madrid, Spain.

For infectologist Esper Kallás, from USP's Faculty of Medicine, it is very unlikely that Ebola is being transmitted in Senegal. "It is early to think of barring the Senegalese. One case in a population of millions is much too little for a sanitation barrier," he said.

Translated by JILL LANGLOIS

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