Are Indians allowed in the Foreign Legion

In the middle of the Amazon : The problems at the most remote EU external border

The handshake is unparalleled. When the commander of the Foreign Legion lets go, you are glad that nothing is broken. With him, securing the European border, in the deepest rainforest in South America, is safe in good hands. Two meters tall, his blond hair cropped short, a Russian accent. He does not want to reveal his origins, he is now French, here in the jungle. 30 soldiers of the French Foreign Legion are stationed here to secure the most unusual European external border on behalf of France. The Rio Oiapoque is the dividing line between Brazil and French Guiana, the overseas territory of France and thus also the border with the EU.

It is an isolated place of enchanting beauty. Especially in the morning when the fog drifts over the water and the wildlife wakes up. And a place of contrasts: the lawn in the Legion's camp is finely trimmed. There are power lines, while on the other side of the Rio Oiapoque, in Brazil, generators provide electricity for a few hours a day at most. The cellular network is French on both sides - with a European cell phone there are no roaming charges, you are in the EU.

Those who want to go to the village have to travel eight hours by boat

The Oiapoque also forms the border with the Brazilian Tumucumaque National Park, one of the largest rainforest protected areas. It is almost the size of the Netherlands and has been home to a few hundred Wayapi indigenous people for centuries. Settlements are banned on the Brazilian side to protect the rainforest, but thanks to the French village of Camopi, where the Foreign Legion is stationed, there is a small settlement, Vila Brasil. Most of the 90 houses and wooden barracks were built before the Tumucumaque was declared a national park in 2002.

There is music, outdoor hairdressers, liquor stores and brothels. It takes the boat eight hours down the Rio Oiapoque to get to the most remote outpost in the EU. Again and again you have to get out, otherwise the boat is too heavy for the rapids. Crates full of fish, beer, bread, corn and sometimes a whole pig are transported. The 16-year-old Wayapi Mariejeanne also makes the arduous journey. She dreams of working in a restaurant in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, after school. But she also reports of major alcohol problems. “Some start drinking at 13,” says Mariejeanne, who lives on the French side. Do not touch alcohol.

"I was born here and will die here"

The reason for alcoholism among the Wayapi is also the French child benefit. To find out more, Joseph Chanel is the right person to contact. He has been mayor of Camopi since 1992, with some interruptions. On this day, however, he can only be spoken until 12 noon. It's a Sunday and later he wants to drink cachaça, sugar cane schnapps. His real name is Joseph Chandet, but the French misunderstood something and thought of the perfume, so he became Joseph Chanel in the passport. He is lying in a hammock, reading glasses on his bare chest, he is only wearing a red loincloth. If you will, he is the head of the “Euro-Indians”.

“I was born here and will die here,” says Chanel. The Wayapi, who have lived here for centuries, are wanderers between worlds, they know no borders. France does. Nowhere does the country have a longer border than here, 730 kilometers with Brazil. Around 800 of the 1800 residents in Campoi are indigenous. Many come from the Brazilian side, they came so that the women here would give birth to their children. “There are 400 to 1200 euros in child benefit, depending on the age and number,” says Chanel. There are also other social benefits. The money is often invested in alcohol on the other side in the cheaper Vila Brasil, or in gasoline and diesel - there are many gold prospectors active in the area who need fuel for the engines and diesel for power generators.

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