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Case Study No.12

Narratives of three sisters


University of Coimbra


Key words

Narratives, violence, persecution, flight, human rights, violations, ruptures, survival


This case represents refugee stories, more specifically, narratives of three black sisters from Congo in the Federal District, Brazil. These are narratives collected in Santos, CA (2018). Uma história de refúgio: narrativas de três irmãs negras do Congo no Distrito Federal. Dissertação de Mestrado em Sociologia. Universidade de Brasília, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Departamento de Sociologia.

Retrieved from:

Detailed description of the situation

This happening is about the narratives of three sisters born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are asylum seekers, black, have low income and are residents of the Federal District (Brazil). Since they left Kinshasa (capital of Congo), they faced violence, political persecution, human rights restrictions and ruptures conditioned by forced displacement as a condition of survival (due to politic persecution). 

They experienced difficult moments before and during their escape, till their arrival and adaptation to the host country. They experienced ruptures and transformations (e.g., the death of the parents, determined the paths of the stories experienced by the sisters); trauma, fears and revolt (e.g., house burned, bank accounts blocked), and were constantly searching for stability and adaptation (e.g., employment, housing, education, health, access to rights, social relations, among other issues), having expectations to develop a project for their future life.

Considering the process of interaction and integration in Brazil, based on the analysis of the intersection of the categories of gender, race, class, migratory status (refugees) and nationality, it was observed that such categories have an impact in terms of inequalities. For the nationality category it was found that it does not disqualify treatment.

The three Congolese sisters arrived in Brazil and a new moment started, full of challenges.

What would you do to support their inclusion in the new society?

Share your ideas and suggestions on TEACHmi online Forum!

Here are few questions for self-reflection:

  • How can these individuals be supported at the level of true inclusion? 

  • What are the reasons for migration and consequent (or not), degree of vulnerability and / or needs or weaknesses?

Initial reaction

Arrivals in Brazil were welcomed at the Migration and Human Rights Institute (IMDH) in Brasília. They received support from the Institute with basic baskets, diapers, personal hygiene items, etc.

In one of these deliveries, the author of the text, a volunteer at that Institute, met the three sisters, and "They received me in their own way, very receptive and warm, with hugs, smiles and conversations. At that time, they still did not communicate well in Portuguese and the first conversations were conducted in French. We exchanged contacts, just as I did with other girls, and we kept on the phone "(p.15).

As it was stressed in cases of forced migration, the impossibility of returning back influences the migratory experience specifically. So, it was noticed that that these women gathered efforts for their adaptation and integration into Brazilian society, considering that work is the main condition for the integration process within the receiving society.

It was observed by this study that these women had a greater need of becoming part of social groups. For their adaptation to Brazil and since their arrival, their interest was also in affective and friendship sharing.

Suggested solution

  • Active listening of the newcomers. They have a past, a present and often have no prospects for the future. Many, even accompanied are alone, homesick, with good and bad memories, but who need support, social, psychological and in several domains.

  • Storytelling (Topic 2) can be a useful tool to create a more welcoming environment at school 

The abandonment of a birth place/country in forced conditions is a traumatic experience that requires from hosting countries the ability to treat people with respect and dignity, guiding policies and interventions by the references of human rights, which means regarding the other as person in his integrity. The national country can be left back, but the individuals don’t lose, ever, their condition of human beings. Considering the multidimensionality of active citizenship and to gather efforts allowing the participation of people like the refugees, imply to give opportunities, that can be a benefit for these publics as well as for hosting society (e.g., employment). Above all, the acknowledgement that refugees have the right to live decently, wherever they are, is the greatest challenge, that we, as society should overcome.

Why is this case-study relevant?

It allows thinking about the inclusion / integration processes.

It allows reflecting on experiences of violence, political persecution, flight, loss of human rights and ruptures conditioned by the need to escape as a condition of survival. This situation presented is important for this project as it permits us to reflect on:

  • degree of variability in the motives for migratory movements;

  • analysis of the relationship between reasons for leaving countries of origin and integration capacities in host countries;

  • analysis of potential variables competing with the inclusion process: variables more linked to migrant subjects and variables of contexts in the host countries.

These narratives allow us to reflect on several issues:

  • disruptions and transformations;

  • trauma, fears, revolt;

  • search for stability and adaptation;

  • expectations for the future.

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