Eight Namibian girls facing drug charges in Brazil say they are wallowing in poverty with no one to turn to after Namibian Consulate officials in Sao Paulo abandoned them at their hour of need.
Spokesperson of the group, Melanie van Niekerk, who was sentenced to six years in a Brazilian prison after she was found in possession of 12.5kgs of cocaine, told the Windhoek Observer on Thursday that Namibian Consulate officials have expressed no desire to help her and at least seven other girls caged in the South American country for drug possession.
Van Niekerk was initially sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence, but had her sentence reduced on appeal.
She told the Windhoek Observer that she was released from prison last May after spending two and half years inside, but she remains on parole and is not allowed to leave the country until 2022.
“I want to go home. I have three kids aged 12, 8 and six. Judges normally release mothers with young kids under 12 early, but the judge working on my case denied my request even after showing her proof that I had young kids,” Van Niekerk said.
“I regret getting myself into this situation, but if you are single mother with limited opportunities, you can do anything. If someone offers you an opportunity to carry drugs, you take it, but now I regret it because I left my kids alone,” she said.
She claims that someone set her up when she was arrested in 2016 because the authorities knew exactly who she was when she arrived at the airport.
“It was my first time to carry drugs, so when I was told what it was all about, I was scared and didn’t want to go through with it.”
She said she was so shocked when she was arrested at the airport and tests showed that she was carrying cocaine.
“It was a bad day for me when they tested the substance and said it was cocaine. It was a sad day, and I don’t even want to remember it.”
Van Niekerk said she had agreed to go to Brazil after she was promised N$30,000 and assured that all would be fine.
“I knew what I came here for, but once I reached here, I asked myself why did I come here and I developed called feet.”
She said she was recruited by a Namibian coloured lady who was working with a Nigerian man known only as Peter, who is based in South Africa.
She also claimed that Peter was a well-known man in Brazil.
“When I went to court, everyone said that they knew a guy by the name of Peter because every girl from Namibia arrested for drug possession has mentioned his name.”
Advice to other girls
Van Niekerk said although she has plenty of advice to give to other desperate young girls; she would not do it through third papers or newspapers.
“I want to come there and go on NBC TV and give the advice myself,” she said.
The president must intervene
She pleaded with the Windhoek Observer to talk to the government and the president so that her and the other girls can receive assistance.
“Our people from the consulate never take time to come see or help us. Consulate officials from the other countries bring food and toiletries for their nationals, but our consulate officials don’t. What kind of government do we have?
“Since we are outside prison, how are we supposed to live? It’s not easy to get jobs in Brazil, so how are we supposed to survive? Our government officials are staying in hotels, going to the beach in Rio de Jenairo, eating our money, but they don’t assist us.
“The other girls in prison were asking us, where are your consulate officials?”
She said prison life in Brazil is very dangerous and a lot of inmates have since died due to a lack of proper medical care.
“Even when you have health problems or when you get sick, they don’t take you to hospital. There are so many people that have died in prison here.”
Another lady who could only identify herself as Sabina said her case is different from the other girls. She claimed that she was tricked into coming to Brazil by her neighbour with the help of her own husband.
“My situation is different from the other girls who knew what they were coming here to do. My neighbour used to come here and I looked after her child, but one time her baby was sick so I refused to stay with her. She begged me, but I insisted, then she suggested that I come to Brazil to fetch gold for her, so we agreed on that,” Sabina claimed.
She said when she was about to leave Brazil for South Africa, she did not even see the bags that she was supposed to carry.
“A taxi just came where I was staying and the bags were already inside the car. While at the airport, I got lost since it is so big, then suddenly I saw two men running towards me and I thought that they wanted to rob me.
“I was surprised that one of them was even speaking Afrikaans and they told me that they were here to help me since they had seen that I was lost.
“They carried my bags and we went inside a room where they opened the bags which had shoes. Inside the shoes that’s where they had put the cocaine, but I told them that I didn’t know anything about the drugs.”
She said she was released after four months in jail, but she cannot leave the country since she is on parole for six years.
“In all the four months that I stayed in prison, I never saw not even a single person from the consulate. Since 2017 when I came out of prison, they never spoke to me until recently when my husband contacted some people in Windhoek. After that, they came and I received my passport, but now I cannot leave Brazil.”
She said other consulates were helping their citizens by issuing new passports with different names so that they are able to bypass the security system at the airport.
“Other people are doing it, especially people from South Africa, but our consulate here in Sao Paulo cannot do anything because they say there is no money.
“Our consulate officials want us to stay here and suffer more or end up doing the things that landed us here in the first place. I want to go back home to see my two kids.”
Contacted for comment, Namibian Ambassador to Brazil, Samuel Nuuyoma, said he doesn’t respond to rumours.
“I don’t respond to rumours because I know the facts and what’s happening on the ground. Who told you about this and why are you asking me about it if you say the relatives have told you. I will be in Namibia and we can talk about it when I get there. Actually one of the person’s relatives is actually on their way here, so I know what’s going on,” the Ambassador said.