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Displaced

Portuguese institutions are better prepared now’ – Ghalia Taki, Syrian refugee


When Mustafa decided to flee Iraq five years ago and reached Portugal – via Syria, Turkey, and Greece – he was convinced to get asylum quickly. What he didn’t know was that the country was – at that time – ill-prepared in taking care of refugees, especially from the Middle East. Living conditions were poor, asylum procedures slow, and recognition of diplomas problematic. Most refugees felt utterly lost and fled the country in search of greener pastures up north.


Since then a lot has changed for the better. Portugal has positioned itself at the forefront of welcoming refugees and already hosted – under various international programs – nearly 3000 refugees, living in 26 municipalities across the country.

The government of António Costa repeatedly states that ‘the welcoming and integration of refugees is a priority, to which a continuous effort is dedicated, involving national and local authorities, private entities and civil society.’

Now, five years later, Samir – who arrived at the same time as Mustafa under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement program – no longer wants to leave the country, where his children are integrated and show excellent grades in school.

Besides via the UNHCR, the country also receives refugees under EU Relocation programs. One of them is aimed at the more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors stuck in refugee camps in Greece of which already 121 have been accepted by Portugal.

The country is currently the 4th EU member state that takes in most unaccompanied minors, after France, Germany, and Finland. These adolescents – mostly boys between 14 and 17 years old – are initially being housed in temporary shelters in Lisbon and the northern and central regions.

Cláudia Sabença, director of the Specialized Reception Centre at the Red Cross – which coordinates the unaccompanied minors program – emphasizes that these youngsters have serious emotional problems (nightmares, anxiety) and that insufficient mastery of the Portuguese language complicates a smooth integration.

The Government also provides support in the event of Emergency Rescue operations at sea and has hosted so far 243 people saved from the Mediterranean.

The fact that the country is willing to receive over 400 Afghan refugees – above all women, children, activists, and journalists – is one more sign of its hospitality.

‘Portuguese institutions are better prepared now and have more information about culture and people’s needs”, says Ghalia Taki, a Syrian refugee, who works as an interpreter and recently obtained the Portuguese nationality, albeit six years and ten months after arriving in the country.

Stay healthy                Fique saudável            (pic Público/Lusolobo)











Xenophobia

From now on, every time we – black women – look at the steps of the Parliament, we will not see each other with buckets and mops to clean – we are inside and have a voice ’  (Romualda Fernandes, MP)

A hundred protesters marched on Saturday the 27th of June through downtown Lisbon shouting ‘Portugal is not racist’. The demonstration was organized by Andre Ventura, the leader of the Far Right-party Chega (Enough).

Last October, Ventura won the first far right’s seat in Parliament, where he will face strong opposition of three newly elected black deputies with a Guinean background, Joacine Katar, Beatriz Gomes Dias and Romualda Fernandes. Never before in history was the composition of the Assembly of the Republic that diverse.

The march was held three weeks after thousands gathered in the capital in protest against racism and police brutality and took place at a time when the authorities are worried about a new wave of coronavirus cases in the outskirts of Greater Lisbon, where new lockdown measures have been installed in 19 parishes of Sintra, Loures, Odivelas, Amadora and Santa Clara.

The European Social Survey (ESS) recently showed that nearly two-thirds of the Portuguese people have prejudices on racism; either biological (‘Are there ethnic or racial groups, by nature, more intelligent?’) or cultural (‘Are there cultures, by nature, more civilized than others?’). One in three Portuguese manifest racist opinions on both biological and cultural racism. Only 11% of the population disagrees with all racist beliefs. 

The older the Portuguese are, the greater the number of people who manifest racism.
Although the majority of young people disagree that there are more intelligent ethnic or racial groups, 70% believes that certain cultures are more civilized than others.
Higher levels of education or income do not completely erase racism even though less racism is noted among these citizens.

The good news in the survey is that in recent years the position of the Portuguese against immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds has improved.
Five years ago Portugal belonged to the three EU countries that were most opposed to receiving immigrants from poor countries but it evolved towards greater openness and has become one where this objection dropped significantly.

 ‘However it remains to be seen how these immigrants are integrated’, underlines Alice Ramos, a sociologist at the Social Science Institute of the University of Lisbon. ‘You would have to know why people think that immigrants should enter, what jobs they should do and what they think about nationality and family reunification?
The results do not contradict the results of racist beliefs. It is one thing to give an opinion, the other is an attitude of discrimination against someone with a different ethnic background.’

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Sapo)