Immigrant agricultural workers afraid of eviction and having nowhere to live

The Public Prosecutor’s Office estimates that a criminal network accused of human trafficking earned more than 3 million euros in five years. Last November charges were made against 41 defendants in Beja – the city that has become the epicenter of the circulation of immigrants – who were exploiting 55 foreign workers from various countries such as Timor Leste, Moldavia, and Ukraine.

According to the accusation, companies created by the network  – with fancy names such as Apogeu de promessas (Heyday of promises) or Primavera sedutora (Seductive spring) – promised ‘vulnerable’ immigrants in the Alentejo work in agriculture for a much higher price than they will ever be paid while offering ‘degrading’ living conditions. Workers were threatened and even assaulted in some cases.

Mattresses on the floor, soaked in urine. Lack of cleaning a and nauseating smell. Cockroaches and fleas everywhere. Five bathrooms for 100 people. No kitchen. Small storage rooms packed with people, obliged to share a bed. Identification documents often withheld and salaries not paid. Some workers earning between 5 and 10 euros a week were even forced to beg in order to survive.

Among the 41 defendants, there are seven Portuguese. In the accounts of two of them – who allowed the use of their names for registration of vehicles and insurance, fixing bank loans, or providing accommodation for the exploited workers – respectively 210,000 and 285,000 euros were found.

In the account of a solicitor – accused of opening fictitious companies for the defendants, advising them to pay the minimum of taxes and the minimum to workers – the police identified a profit of more than 273,000 euros.  

This is not the first time semi-slavery conditions have been encountered by immigrant agricultural workers in the Alentejan province. In November 2022 the Judiciary Police detained 35 people suspected of belonging to a criminal network – again made up of foreigners and Portuguese – dedicated to the exploitation of the work of immigrant citizens, enticed in their countries of origin such as Moldavia, Romania, India, Pakistan and Senegal.

Prosecutor Felismina Carvalho Franco calls in the newspaper Público for the reparation of the victims in case they do not apply for civil compensation. ‘The crime of human trafficking highlights the possibility of putting a price on a human being as if it were a machine, serving only to produce and make a profit. We are faced with victims, who have no other choice but to submit to abuse.’  

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                        (pic Público)

Portuguese ceramic tiles encapsulate centuries of history and artistic evolution

Azulejo – derived from the Arab word Az-zulayi (‘polished stone’) – is a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazed ceramic work found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, houses, restaurants, and even railway or subway stations. Although an ornamental art form, these tiles also serve a functional purpose by preventing humidity.

The earliest azulejos in the 13th century were panels of tile-mosaic known as alicatados – derived from the Arabic qata’a (‘to cut’) – introduced by the Moors to the Iberian Peninsula. Tiles were glazed in a single colour, cut into geometric shapes, and assembled to form geometric patterns (so-called Islamic or Mudejár design). Beautiful examples can be admired in the Alhambra of Granada and the Alcázar in Seville, Spain, and to the present day in Morocco.

Towards the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Seville became an important centre for the mass production of a type of tyle known as cuenca (‘hollow’) or arista (‘ridge’). In this techniques, motifs were formed by pressing a metal or wooden mould over the unbaked tile, leaving a motif delineated by thin ridges of clay that prevented the different colours from merging into each other during baking.

The same techniques were introduced into Portugal by King Manuel I – after a visit to Seville in 1503 – who subsequently decorated his residence palace in Sintra with azulejos. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and covered both the walls and floors with tiles.

During the Era of Discovery and trade with the East, Europeans became fascinated by the elegance of Chinese porcelain and the Dutch began making tiles in similar blue and white tones in an attempt to imitate this technique.

In the second half of the 17th century, these blue-and-white tiles from Delft were introduced into Portugal. Craft shops in the Netherlands created large tile panels with historical scenes for rich Portuguese clients. However, at the end of the century, King Peter II stopped all Dutch imports and homemade blue-and-white figurative tiles became the dominant fashion, superseding the former taste for repeated patterns and abstract decoration.  

The late 17th and 18th centuries became the ‘Golden Age of the Azulejo’. Mass production not just started because of greater internal demand, but also because of large orders coming from the Portuguese colonies i.e. Brazil. Churches, monasteries, palaces, and even ordinary houses were covered inside and outside with azulejos, many with exuberant Baroque elements. Scenes of daily life, landscapes, and biblical stories graced the ceramic canvasses.

At the start of the 20th century Art Nouveau-azulejos started to appear. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro founded a ceramics factory – nowadays a museum – in Caldas da Rainha, where he created pottery designs and decorative plates. Art Deco-azulejos made their appearance in the 1930s. The monumental decorations in the São Bento railway station in Porto – consisting of 20,000 azulejos – show historical themes of a romantic lifestyle.

The oldest, still functioning tile factory – called Sant’Anna – is situated in the capital since 1741. Today, 90% of its production is exported abroad.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) in Lisbon is worth a visit as it houses the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in the world.

Boa semana                                                       Enjoy the week