Veteran British journalist Dom Phillips missing in Amazon

Source: BBC


The family of veteran British journalist Dom Phillips is urging more action be taken to find him after he went missing in the Brazilian Amazon.

Phillips, 57, disappeared along with Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Araújo Pereira in a remote rainforest area while researching a book.

The two had received threats days before vanishing on Sunday morning, say indigenous rights groups.

Both men have deep knowledge of the region.

Pereira, who is currently on leave from his post with the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, is an expert on isolated tribes in the Amazon.

Phillips has been living in Brazil for more than a decade and is a long-time contributor to Britain’s Guardian newspaper as well as other publications such as the Financial Times and the Washington Post.

He has written extensively about the threats facing the Amazon, including how cattle farming is fuelling an environmental crisis and how illegal gold miners encroach on indigenous territory.

Two indigenous rights groups – Union of Indigenous Organizations of the Javari Valley (Univaja) and the Observatory for the Human Rights of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (OPI) – sounded the alarm about the men’s disappearance on Monday.

In a statement [in Portuguese], they said that the two men had been travelling by boat in the Javari Valley to interview members of an indigenous guard.

The area is located in the west of Amazonas state, near the border with Peru, and has seen incursions from illegal loggers and miners.

On Sunday, the two stopped in the community of São Rafael, where Pereira was scheduled to meet a local community leader to discuss joint patrols between indigenous people and residents of riverside communities.

According to the rights groups, Phillipps and Pereira arrived at 06:00 local time and set off shortly afterwards towards the municipality of Atalaia do Norte, a journey which takes around two hours.

When they failed to arrive, Univaja sent out a search party at around 14:00 but found no trace of the two men along the stretch of river they had been expected to take.

The last to see them were residents of São Gabriel, a community downriver from São Rafael, who spotted their boat going past, the statement adds.

The rights groups say Phillips and Pereira were traveling in a new boat and had enough fuel to cover their journey.

They add that in the week leading up to the men’s disappearance, the team had received threats.

“It wasn’t the first time threats were made,” the statement says, adding that previous instances had been reported to the police.

The area is home to more than 20 indigenous groups, who have denounced activities by illegal miners, fishers and hunters.

A Funai base in the region has come under attack on a number of occasions in recent years.

Phillips’ family has been appealing to the authorities to speed up the search.

His Brazilian wife, Alessandra Sampaio, wrote “our families are in despair, please answer the urgency of the moment with urgent actions”.

“In the forest every second counts, every second could be the difference between life and death,” she added.

Mr Phillips’ sister, Sian Phillips, also appealed for help in a video statement.

Federal police and the Brazilian navy have joined the search, but have been criticised for deploying a small number of people in such a vast area.

The navy said in a statement that on Tuesday it would deploy a helicopter “in addition to two vessels and a watercraft”.

The men’s disappearance is being widely covered in the Brazilian media and many people have taken to social media to demand more be done to find them.

Among those tweeting was former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who wrote: “Phillips interviewed me for the Guardian in 2017. I hope they are fine, safe and will be found quickly.”