Tag Archive for: migration

Portugal is still a backward country’ – Elisa Ferreira (EU commissioner)

Portugal is about twice as big as the Netherlands and has 10 million inhabitants, of which 2 million live abroad. Last week – on the 5th of October – Republic Day was celebrated, memorizing the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910.

Since the Carnation Revolution in 1974, urbanization has increased at the expense of the countryside, and the coastal region has become more densely populated, younger, and richer. The two metropolitan areas of Lisbon (at the Tagus river) and Porto (at the river Douro) – cover 5% of the territory, half of the population, and more than 50% of the gross domestic product, an important indicator of economic wealth.

The isolated geographical position (‘where the land ends and the sea begins’) and the struggle to escape poverty and overcome the scarcity of natural resources have always been a constant in Portuguese history. It stood at the origin of the Portuguese discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries and was the cause of successive waves of emigration.

The impossibility of combining national sovereignty with regular trade relations with Spain has pushed the country towards the Atlantic and Britain was Portugal’s main trading partner for centuries. The importance of this relationship dates back to the Treaty of Windsor in 1386.

During the Estado Novo of dictator Salazar and despite the political affinities of the two autocratic regimes, Portugal and Spain kept their backs turned and trade relations between the two countries remained almost non-existent until their entry into the European Union. Nowadays, Spain is the main market for the Portuguese export of goods.

The small size of the economy and the awareness of its economic backwardness in relation to the more developed European countries is a fundamental feature of the Portuguese identity.

As said, things changed in 1986 when Portugal was integrated into the European community. Businesses got access to the latest technologies and global markets and European funds made it possible to catch up with the huge backlog in infrastructure ( i.e. roads) and education.

Paradoxically, progress did not lead to equivalent production growth, and Portuguese workers were long seen as good professionals in tasks that did not require high qualifications (construction, cleaning, clothing industry).

The poor growth and the financial crisis at the beginning of the 21st century lowered the country’s expectations. Many citizens lost confidence in the country’s ability to change and innovate. This loss in confidence was one of the reasons why nearly half a million Portuguese emigrated between 2010 and 2020. It also reflects the giving up of many Portuguese to change their country.

Progress was also not able to solve one of the biggest problems in society: the high incidence of poverty among the young and the elderly. Portugal is one of the most unequal countries in the EU. Being born into an economically and socially disadvantaged family is practically a condemnation and hard to tackle in a low-growth economy.

Demographic projections point to an accelerated aging and ‘shrinking’ of the population. An older population tends to be more resistant to change and innovation, which can be an obstacle to productivity growth. More innovation and investment in workers’ skills will be essential to offset the negative effects of population decline and aging.

Over the past decades, the Portuguese have accumulated one of the highest debts in the EU as a percentage of GDP. The rise in debt has coincided with a fall in savings which became one the lowest in the EU. High debt and low savings make households more vulnerable to shocks, such as the debt crisis in 2011 or the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country has definitely undergone profound economic and social changes but as long as the most qualified young people emigrate, Portugal will continue to live below its means. This is not just a failure of the economy but also of the Portuguese democracy.

Enjoy the week                               Aproveite a semana

‘The Portuguese history is not just white, Mocambo may not remain forgotten’.

Around 1500 King Manuel I decided to give the monopoly of slave trafficking in the Portuguese empire to Lisbon. For two and a half centuries circa 10% of the population in the capital consisted of black slaves, performing the hardest tasks. In one of the western districts, next to the Tagus river, between Bairro Alto and  Madragoa – the first African neighbourhood of Europe was born.

It was here that many Africans – enslaved or freed – found shelter. Mocambo – a word in Umbundu (one of several Angolan languages ) meaning ‘place of refuge’ – became in the 16th century one of the most populated neighbourhoods in Lisbon. Away from the white Portuguese gaze, the place was essential for African memories and the preservation of social and religious practices (weddings, funerals)  

Those who lived there worked in the maintenance of Lisbon’s public places. Sweepers, water distributors, whitewashers – preserving the houses, monuments, and sidewalks. The black or mulatto women worked as a maid or ran barefoot all over the capital to sell fish or coal.  

It is from the 16th century onwards that the arrival of enslaved Africans gave rise to physical and social rejection (‘black as coal’, ‘smelly, ‘ugly’) An image of the African slave, as inferior, and subordinate was established. For a long time, looking at black people were looked at as an ethnic group that was not worthy of being studied.

In Madragoa – where the Portuguese tradition was born of covering façades with tiles to protect property from the humidity rising from the Tagus – there are still some reminders of slavery. Next to the Santa Catarina church, is the Cruz de Pau (‘Wooden Cross’), the place of punishment inflicted on the enslaved. Rua do Poço dos Negros (‘Black Wells Street’) was the place where King Manuel had a well-built, where the dead bodies of the enslaved were thrown in.

One of the most remarkable moments in Mocambo happened in 1882 when the Queen of CongoDona Maria Amália I – stayed there along with her entourage. She had traveled to Portugal to pay homage to the king of Portugal but it were the ‘amazing’ African festivals in Mocambo, that caught the attention of the newspapers.

At the same time, the descriptions of Mocambo changed from ‘one of the best suburbs of Lisbon’ to a ‘dirty’ place, full of ‘epidemics’. The neighbourhood began to receive more and more fishermen and Africans headed to other parts of the country, especially after slavery was abolished in Portugal in 1773.

Maps from the late 19th century no longer show any reference to Mocambo. All that remains is Casa Mocambo with an African restaurant and an Art Gallery. A stage for African Lisbon where film cycles dedicated to the black community are organized, as well as theatre sessions and concerts by African musicians. ‘We have such a mixed Lisbon and all we talk about is white Lisbon. I want to change that’, explains the owner Mafalda Nunes.

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                (pic Público/Sapo)

‘It’s not right. One turns his back and, suddenly, there are 214,286 Portuguese missing’
(Miguel Cardoso, Portuguese journalist)

In the last 10 years, Portugal has lost 214,286 citizens (-2%) according to preliminary data from the 2021 Census, released on 28 July by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
It is the second time that something like this has happened.

Since 1864, the Portuguese population has always grown. Except between 1960 and 1970, when – in the grip of a brutal dictatorship – a huge emigration wave swept a quarter of a million people out of the country. After the 70s, the numbers kept going up again, until now.

The main reason for the current decline is the tumbling fertility rate.
In the first six months of this year, 4500 fewer babies were born than in the same period last year. It is the lowest number in over 30 years.

Despite the fact that a record of almost 150.000 foreigners – mainly from Brazil and Israel – obtained Portuguese nationality in 2020, the positive migration balance of the last years proved not to be enough to compensate for the decline.

Only the Algarve (+3.7%) and the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon (+1.7%) are showing growth. Albeit at the expense of the interior parts of the country (Alentejo province – 6,9%), that continue to lose inhabitants in favor of coastal grounds.

Reduction in the asymmetry between the coast and the interior has been part of the political discourse for a long time. Census21 shows that that has been in vain.

The inner cities of Lisbon (-1,4%) and Porto (-2,4%) also show population decline. Exorbitant housing prices and dwellings being transformed into tourist accommodation, force an increasing number of residents to the outskirts.

Half of the country’s population (currently 10,3 million) is nowadays concentrated in municipalities located in the Metropolitan Areas of Lisbon and Porto; 28% in the Extended Lisbon Area (2,871,133) alone.

The rise in foreign residents (in particular from the UK) and expansion of the tourism industry, together with an increase in the intensive agricultural sector – and the considerable influx of migrant (mainly Asian) labor associated with this activity – probably explains the population boost in the Algarve.

‘If there is no reversal of the natural balance – particularly in births –  we will become increasingly dependent on migration from abroad to save our population’, concludes Francisco Lima, CEO of INE.

Stay healthy                                    Fique saudável              (pic Público)

For me, Mouraria is like the Tower of Babel, built and rebuilt every day, despite the diversity of languages and its perfect disharmony’ –  (Fatima, teacher and descendant of Cape Verdean migrants)

The history of Lisbon and Mouraria – one of the city’s oldest quarters – both originate from the presence of diverse people and cultures. In 1143, Lisbon was conquered from the Moors by King Alfonso Henriques, becoming a Christian city. The birth of Mouraria goes back to the same period, built outside the walls as the only territory where Moors were authorized to reside.

In the 16th century, the first black migrants were forced into slavery in Lisbon, in that era the largest European centre of the flourishing slave trade. The number of slaves present in the capital reached 10% of the total population, that time comprising 100,000 inhabitants.

In the 18th century, the rebuilding of the city – after its apocalyptic earthquake on All Saints Day, 1 November 1755  – led to significant flows of migrant workers from Galicia, Spain’s most north-western province. In the course of the 19th and 20th century, an exodus from the countryside ignited major demographic growth in the capital just as migration from the Portuguese colonies, in response to the need for labour.

On 25 April 1974, Portugal became a democracy after 48 years of dictatorship. Between April and November 1975, Portugal took in half a million Portuguese and their descendants from its ex-colonies in Africa.

At the end of the ‘80s, a growing number of migrants began to arrive from Brazil, benefitting from a special provision for regularisation. Finally, from the ‘90s onwards, migration towards Lisbon has involved new areas such as Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Romania) and Asia ( Bangladesh, India).

 Mouraria is the most multicultural neighbourhood of the capital. Here you find everything from African grocers to Chines tea, Indian clothing, religious talismans, Bengali restaurants, mosques and halal butchers. The percentage of foreign residents (25%) is well above the average for the city (10%) and the nation (less 4%).

Considered until recently a socially degraded area – situated close to the historical city centre – the neighbourhood is nowadays a breeding ground for integration with tastes, sounds and smells from every corner of the world.

In the heart of Mouraria resides the Associação Renovar a Mouraria (Renovate the Mouraria). This NGO not only develops activities to support the local community (i.e. Portuguese lessons for migrants, a legal help desk, empowerment courses for women and educational support for children) but also organizes cultural events and festivities linked to Saint Anthony in June, when the streets fill with music and the smell of grilled sardines.

Bom fim de semana                 Enjoy the weekend                      (pics Sapo)

‘Migration is a right, not a privilege’ – António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Only immigration can save the Portuguese from extinction as more old people die than babies are born and the number of people leaving the country continues to be greater than the number entering it.

Over the past ten years more than 400.000 ‘new citizens’ have been added to a population of 10 million due to an extension of the law in 2006, allowing expatriates to obtain the Portuguese nationality after residing at least six years in Portugal. But who are these migrants and where do they stay?

The majority of the ‘new citizens’ originate from Portuguese speaking countries such as Brazil (120.000), Cape Verde (75.000), GuineaBissau (35.000), and Angola (35.000). During the same period, a considerable number of Ukrainians (25.000) and Romanians (30.000) settled in the country.

About half of the ‘new citizens’ live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, over 60.000 in the sunny Algarve, about 35.000 around Setúbal and 25.000 in the northern harbor town Porto. Lately more Western Europeans – primarily French and English – than Eastern Europeans and Africans are entering the country.

Portugal’s state of security, quality of life and favorable fiscal climate – especially of interest for wealthy pensioners from EU countries – definitively play a role.

It has always been difficult to get a residence permit without a fixed work contract. Yet last summer, the socialist government decided to relax the law allowing migrants with a provisional work contract or even a promise of employment, to apply for a permit. Moreover, immigrants caring for minors and those who are born in Portugal may no longer – according to the new legislation – be simply expelled from the country. A prerequisite, however, is that they haven’t entered Portugal illegally.

Timothy Macedo – from the NGO Solidaridade Imigrante (SOLEM) – is happy with the new law, but points out that there are more than 30.000 illegals (the vast majority living in Lisbon) and that most of them are waiting for years to be assessed by the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF).

Without legal documents, they are condemned to dirty, illegal and badly-paid jobs and deprived of social security. Cynthia Paula – from the NGO Casa do Brasil – also denounces the lack of political will, huge bureaucracy and enormous waiting lists at the SEF, giving rise to unnecessary ‘slow and unjust’ integration and exploitation of illegal workers.

Bom fim de semana                                              Have a great weekend