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REPORTERS PLUS

From Brazil to Canada: the new odyssey for African migrants

Canada has become the new El Dorado for many African migrants, who have seen Europe and the United States close their borders. But they face a dangerous journey across South and North America. Every year, some of them die on their way to a better life, amid widespread indifference to their plight. For five months, our reporters followed Rosette and her family from DR Congo on this long, dangerous odyssey across ten countries.

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In the space of five months, Rosette and her family have travelled more than 20,000 kilometres – risking their lives. First, they fled DR Congo for Brazil. Then, from Sao Paulo, where they arrived on a tourist visa, they crossed South America – including the perilous Colombian jungle – before reaching the United States and finally their Canadian El Dorado. They traversed ten countries in total, in the hands of powerful clandestine networks of people smugglers and cartels, and corrupt policemen or soldiers who control the borders. They often crossed paths with cocaine smugglers heading for North America.

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During the five months that we spent with Rosette, her husband Godet and their daughters Maria and Pauline, we saw many other migrants heading north to Canada. On this route, where a human life is worth just a few handfuls of dollars, Congolese, Malians, Senegalese, Nepalese and Bangladeshis try to blend in with the flow of South American and Caribbean migrants. But some will never reach their destination.

We spent longer on the most dangerous stage of the journey: a vast stretch of jungle called the Darien Gap, the only way of getting from Colombia to Panama. Finally, we reached the Canadian border, which is seeing an unprecedented wave of illegal migrants crossing daily to seek asylum, all of them desperate for better lives.

Update on April 18, 2018: After managing to cross the Mexico-US border, Rosette, Godet, Pauline, and Maria reached Portland, Maine, on the north-eastern coast of the United States. They spent all their savings on the journey, but they are safe and sound. The family is now looking to raise the few dozen dollars it needs to get to the Canadian border.

Update on May 10, 2018: Rosette, Godet, Pauline and Maria have finally reached Canada. They are now in a reception centre for asylum seekers in Montreal. While they wait for the Canadian authorities' response to their asylum request, Rosette hopes that her daughters will be able to enter the school system and learn French.

Update on June 27, 2018: After surviving a seven-month voyage, crossing eleven borders in the hands of people-smuggling networks, and passing through transit camps for undocumented migrants, Rosette and her family were finally able to apply for asylum in Canada. They are now in Montreal, Quebec and receive support from PRAIDA, the provincial government organisation that helps claimants in their first months. If their request is refused, the Congolese family face expulsion from Canada. But if it is accepted, Rosette hopes to resume her nursing studies. Godet, her husband, wants to work in construction. Pauline and Maria will go to school in Montreal in September 2018. Pauline hopes to have a chance to fulfil her dream in Canada: becoming a doctor.

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Report by François Rihouay. A Keep In News production with teams from France 24, Radio Canada, and RCN (Colombia).

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