SAO PAULO (AP) – Surrounded by boxes, a stack of packages of rice and mattresses, José Ávila Saavedra sat on the floor with a thousand-page gaze on Wednesday. For two weeks he had lived inside the Sao Paulo international airport, his life was an endless stopover.
Saavedra and more than 200 other Colombians camped at the airport in hopes that their fate would force the Colombian government in Brazil to rent a humanitarian flight home. Anything to get it back to Colombia, and far from Latin American coronavirus hot spots.
“We don’t have money or anything to do in Brazil. We want to ask the Colombian president to help us. We only eat thanks to donations,” Saavedra said.
Saavedra has sold clothes in Sao Paulo, earning enough to support his wife, niece and 2-year-old daughter. Then, the official of the state of Sao Paulo ordered the termination of unnecessary trade as part of the closure to control the spread of the virus, and he lost his ability to obtain and sell merchandise.
Most displaced Colombians fell asleep near Wednesday’s airport check-in area, some on mattresses and others on flattened cloth sheets or cardboard boxes. Some lay on the floor naked.
Those who wake up say they don’t have more than $ 400 for flights to Colombia, after losing their jobs due to a pandemic. Retail and restaurant jobs disappeared, they said.
Between March and April, the Brazilian economy reduced more than one million jobs from the formal sector, according to government data published Wednesday. Loss of informal employment in two months has not been reported by the national statistical agency, but it is also expected to bring the same havoc.
“What money we have, we use to pay rent,” Saavedra said. “Now we are on the road and we want to go home to be with our family.”
The Colombian Embassy in the capital, Brasilia, said in a statement that it had helped 346 Colombians return home on three commercial flights since the start of the pandemic, but each passenger paid in his own way. It said Colombian migration rules forbid the government to pay for anyone’s flights.
“Given the risk of being in an uncontrolled environment such as an airport, transfers to city dorms have been offered. However, our fellow citizens have declined, “said the statement.
The airport said in a statement that it was “monitoring the situation.”
Sao Paulo is the center of a new coronavirus in Brazil, which is by far the hardest hit country in Latin America. The State of Sao Paulo alone has reported 89,000 cases and 6,700 deaths. In contrast, all Colombian countries have reported around a quarter the number of cases and only 776 deaths.
Colombia at the airport is in three separate areas, where they are grouped together in clear violations of social distance recommendations. Federal prosecutors in Sao Paulo said in a statement that their condition constituted “a serious case of humanitarian vulnerability.”
Astrid Serna looked at her cellphone screen while watching her 3-year-old daughter from the corner of her eye. Toddler wrapped in a blanket and lying on the mattress.
Serna said that he arrived in Brazil two years ago and also made a living by selling clothing informally until the pandemic left him unemployed.
“The only thing we are asking for is help from our government. We are Colombians, “Serna said. “They need to understand that if we have money, we will not be here.” ———
Associated Press writer Marcelo de Sousa reports this story from Rio de Janeiro and AP video journalist Tatiana Pollastri reports in Sao Paulo.
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