Africans tough it out in Argentina

Sam, who emigrated from Ivory Coast to Argentina, sells goods on the streets of Buenos Aires.


Kai Ryssdal: If history's any guide, this year more than a 1,000 asylum seekers will show up in Argentina. Most of them won't be from South America's traditional sources -- places like Peru or Colombia. They will be from Africa. Tougher rules in Europe and the United States have pushed refugees to find new destinations. But what they find in South America is not always what they expect. From Buenos Aires, Ian Mount reports.

IAN MOUNT: Outside one of Buenos Aires's main train stations, commuters squeeze down a sidewalk clogged with vendors hawking toys, food, and underwear. The peddlers shout their prices above the din of city buses. One vendor stands in glum silence next to his costume jewelry, and he stands out.

John barely speaks Spanish. He's 23, a recent refugee and a black African in a country with a population that's almost entirely white. Poverty and political strife made him quit his native Liberia but, he says Argentina is not the Promised Land either.

JOHN: There's no work for we refugees. There's nothing for us here.

Well, they do find shelter here. Like the dingy boarding houses in the blue collar San Cristobal neighborhood. A small room here, crammed with four single beds, goes for about $180 a month.

Abdu Lahat Fall, a 25-year-old from Senegal, makes the rent by hawking $3 rings on the street.

ABDU LAHAT FALL: Many times you make $15. And once in a while if you have a big day you make $30. But there are days you go out to work, and you come back with nothing.

For all that, Argentina has its upside. There are liberal policies on immigration. Many remember the 1970's and early 80's when Argentines had to flee overseas to escape the dictatorship at home. The recent refugees from Africa are often helped by the Catholic refugee charity FCCAM.

Father Sante Cervellin works with the organization. He says Africans first began arriving from Senegal seven years ago, and their numbers keep growing.

Although Argentina is a nation of immigrants, most of those settlers were white. They came from Italy and Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries. The arrival now of thousands of black Africans -- just as the economy heads south and crime is rising -- is making some white Argentines tense.

EMILIANO MENCIA: I think that there should be more controls on the border, no?

That's Emiliano Mencia, a 28-year-old apprentice bus driver.

MENCIA: There are, for example, a lot of Bolivians, Africans, Brazilians, and Paraguayans. People who cross the border without documents.

Many Africans complain of discrimination. They say Argentines often address them by the names of random famous blacks, such as Pele. It's also common for boarding houses to refuse to rent to them.

John, the street vendor from Liberia, says a simple trip across town can be an ordeal.

JOHN: Like if I went to something like bus or train, when I sit no one likes to sit behind me. Everybody, they're just like they're scared of me, you know?

But despite this disillusionment, few Africans will be rushing home.

SAM: I'll stay here, I'll stay here.

That's Sam, a 28-year-old who stowed away on a boat 18 months ago from his native Ivory Coast. As tough as Buenos Aires might be, he says it's better than back home, where armed police rule the roost and civilian life can be cheap.

SAM: If you don't have document, they can shoot you. Right now, right now.

In Buenos Aires, I'm Ian Mount for Marketplace.

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I do not see any reason why African immigrants in Argentina should be viewed from the negaitive side only.Lesson no. 1:We are now living in a cilvilised world where all races can now live together having things such as intermarriges and so forth.Lessson no.2:Immigants are forced to leave there countries of origin due may unfavourable conditions such as war,poverty of which it doesn't need a rocket scientist to understand why this happens.These are just innocent human beings seeking where they can have freedom,work,food and where their rights can possibly recognised.Therefore it would be very unfair to blame them instead they must be tolerated and make them legal citizens.Down with what I can tern (afrophobia)

Whites immigrated to argentina, so must others legitimately, bc argentinians are also migrating elsewhere...away from recent cries to greener pastures...only fools wont learn!

Whites immigrated to argentina, so must others legitimately, bc argentinians are also migrating elsewhere...away from recent cries to greener pastures...only fools wont learn!

It is sad that the goverment of Argentina is letting this people in their country, then in the future will create big racial confrontations and lots of problems and will divide this beautiful country, Argentina has enough problems now to deal with their economy.
Then this black people start having lots of
kids and those kids will feel diferent because Argentinias are only used to
see white people and we can't obligate
them to be diferent , they are in THEIR COUNTRY, they have enough now with people that emigrates from latin america and try to change their life style, That is not aceptable, sorry

A few things here: The Afro-Argentine population did not decline from well over 50% to 3% due to interbreeding. All through the 19th century, but most notable in 1879, the Argentine government under the rule of president Roca, carried out "cleansing campaigns" to both usurp land from indigenous populations, and to eliminate the darker skinned undesirables (many people refer to this campaign as genocide.) This included Afro-Argentines and their Mulatto decedents. Secondly- to refer to Argentina's residents' DNA as a "gift" to African refugees is disgusting, racist and immoral.

I very disappointed again to here John on marketplace say he is a refugee from liberia. A man from Nigeria is very likely to be john; he should show were he got the liberian passport, what school he attended and were he was born. This appears to be an international scan going on here and I would expect this story investigated to verify where john is trully from.

People of African descent are not newcomers to Argentina. During the 18th & 19th century, they comprised up to 50% of Argentina's population. The numbers of Afro-Argentinians are said to have declined due to wars and interbreeding with the Indian and European residents. In the 2006 Argentina census, 5% of the respondents said they knew of their African ancestry while another 20% thought that was possible but were not sure. Probably the truth is that African genes are widely dispersed throughout the Argentina people. With this in mind, light-skinned Argentinians should be tolerant of the newly arrived Africans. Africa's gift to Argentina isn't just the tango. It's Argentina's dna.

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