Without support from the Brazilian government and Guinea-Bissau, members of the Milton Sanca family are campaigning online to raise funds for the body’s removal.
By Leandro Barbosa, at Agência Pública
The Guinean Adelson Victor de Oliveira, 34, is a man unable to experience his grief. Since his brother Milton Sanca, 39, died of a stroke on April 25, 2022, in Fortaleza (CE), he has been searching for a way to return the body of a family member to Guinea-Bissau, a country in West Africa, in order to carry out the necessary funeral rites According to the beliefs of the Brame or Macanha ethnic group, of which they are a part. However, that costs about R$40,000 – an amount the family doesn’t have and that prevents Sanca from “resting”.
Melton arrived in Brazil in August 2019. Guinea’s goal, through the construction trade, was to continue working here to help his wife and four children, aged 6-18, who remained in Guinea-Bissau. His dream was to study civil engineering and see his eldest daughter follow in the footsteps of her uncle, Adelson, at the Federal University of Ceará (UFC). However, his plans to study were postponed due to the pandemic, but Milton was able to continue working as a builder until the end of 2021. In January of this year, the immigrant won his first official job, as a driver for a company in Fortaleza. He is the eldest in the family, he was also responsible for taking care of his parents and brother and had a strong involvement in the upbringing of Adelson.
“Brother, death is not the end. I know you’re there. You’ve always been helping me. It helps me bring you home,” said Adelson, looking up, at a hiatus in the middle of the interview given to an agency public, at the UFC, where he is attending his Ph.D. in History. Then he explains: “For our race [brame ou macanha]Milton’s body is not just the body of the deceased person. meaningful. Burying a person outside his homeland is very difficult. Children will carry this until the last day of their lives. It’s a very big shock. What we want is to give Milton’s children hope, that their father will return.”
A ritual is a ceremony performed by the family prior to a funeral, Adelson says, and if it is not performed, there may be physical or spiritual consequences. “It is important that the body goes through all the rituals to avoid future consequences for Milton’s children and our family. At the same time, his family and friends will have the opportunity to say goodbye to the father, brother, and friend he was and still is,” he says.
Adilson explains that according to brame or macanha beliefs, if this ritual is not performed properly, “one member of the family can die or the whole house will be affected by misfortune.” As a result of this, since the day of his death, Milton’s body continues to be preserved while the family searches for resources to take him home. The corpse spent more than 20 days in Fortaleza General Hospital and is now awaiting the outcome of the story at a funeral home.
Trying to go home
Adilson and his uncle, Carlos Zacarias Joaquim Júnior, also in Brazil for his Ph.D., started crowdfunding through Pix email@example.com, into a NuBank account on Adilson’s behalf, to cover transfer costs. However, in the midst of the campaign, Carlos started receiving racist messages on his WhatsApp. With DDD number 81, from Pernambuco, an unknown person described him as a monkey and said Africans are not welcome in Brazil. “I am glad this monkey is dead. You are invading our country and our city. Get out of here!” reads one of the letters. The person also claimed that immigrants were stealing Brazilians’ jobs and passing HIV to women in the country.
“I went to do BO [Boletim de Ocorrência] in the civilian police. Registered as a racial insult. We suffer from racism all the time. Turns out we don’t always reveal. But this time I decided to speak up, because I believe that the person who sends a message like this, at a time like this, has the guts to kill someone,” says Carlos. I was afraid that I would be attacked one day. This is messing with us, no doubt. But I need to be strong, because now I need to think about this situation with Milton, about my Ph.D., about everything that’s going on in my life right now,” he concludes.
In addition to racism, the Sanka family was subjected to an attempted coup. Another number, also from Pernambuco, tried via WhatsApp to pretend to be a benefactor of the transport resource, but according to the scammer, Adilson and Carlos would have to pay an amount of more than R$3,000 to an agency that he claimed represented the company. Portuguese TAP. However, his brother and uncle Milton were skeptical, and after analyzing the proposal and making contact with TAP, they discovered that it was indeed a coup attempt. BO family registered.
Anna Eugenia, of the Quilombola movement, Ceará state, who has provided assistance to members of the Milton family, says racism and xenophobia are evident during this family’s process. We need to ask for an answer from the state. The person who did this should be punished. It is very violent. Anna said that a person does not have an iota of responsibility to respect the other person’s pain.
Regarding both cases, Ciara State Civil Police informed the report that cases of attempted embezzlement and racial slander have been registered and are still under investigation. “Details of the police’s work will be revealed in due course so as not to prejudice the ongoing investigations.”
No solidarity from governments
Through the Association of Guinea-Bissau Students in Ceará, Adelson and Carlos requested support to transport Milton’s body to the Guinean Embassy in Brazil. However, they did not receive the financial assistance they had hoped for. “The embassy was never with us, like it never was,” Adelson says.
In a note, the Embassy of Guinea-Bissau in Brazil stated that it “does not have the financial conditions and is not equipped for the above-mentioned purposes.” The agency also said that its work regarding the transfer to Guinea-Bissau of the remains of Guinean citizens who died in Brazil extends only to cooperation in the issuance of documents, mediation between customs agencies and funeral institutions, as well as liaison with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, if necessary.
The Government of Guinea-Bissau published a memorandum stating that “Milton Sanka, married and father of four, was an exemplary immigrant, and contributed the resources acquired in the host country. [no caso, o Brasil], through remittances to support the family in Bissau. However, the government maintains that the guidelines of the Secretary of State for Communities Affairs do not include the relocation of the remains of immigrants who died in the diaspora.”
Adilson also attempted to appeal to Itamaraty, but the agency was informed that it was not the responsibility of MRE to provide assistance to aliens on national soil. Joao Chaves, a federal attorney general working on immigration, explained that there is in fact no legal provision in favor of the deceased person or his family. “Brazil is obligated to promote a dignified funeral structure and funeral services that preserve the dignity of the deceased person and their family. This includes an individual burial in a cemetery, with identification, the right to a funeral service, etc.,” Chavez told. The defender explains that this type of repatriation has no international expectations. “It is a very delicate situation. What can be said is that states cannot prevent the exodus of bodies when there is a family interest in it. It ends up being a very sad situation. And the solution depends a lot on the organization of the community itself.”
For Anna Eugenia, it is necessary to humanize governmental structures. “Looking at the two [Guiné-Bissau e Brasil], I’m still watching how the structure is created to make things difficult. Everything could be easier. The family won’t have to go through all that. Milton has worked since 2019, when he got here, until the day he died practically. Pay the rent, eat, and drink. He has contributed to both Brazil and Guinea, from the moment he sent his money there. So, I ask myself: Why does solidarity find it so difficult to penetrate these structures?
At this time, the online fundraising drive to move the corpse has reached 50% of the target. The family told the report that they still lacked a Plan B in case the goal was not reached. For them, burying their brother in Brazil is detrimental to sacred rituals.
Carlos Zacharias, Anna Eugenia and Adelson Victor demand an answer from the state (Leandro Barbosa/General Agency)