Tag Archive for: Refugees

‘This is almost wartime spying’

According to the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, Russians infiltrated the refugee support office of the communist-led municipality of Setúbal. Exhausted Ukrainians fleeing the war were welcomed in Russian and said to be asked questions like ‘where is your husband’ and ‘what is he doing in Ukraine’.

The two Russian nationals are Yulia Khashina and her husband Igor Khashin. Yulia is employed by the town council, her husband not. Yet it is Igor who appears to have been registering personal details of around 160 refugees on the computer in the office.

SIC television news revealed that Edinstvo (the Immigrants association of Eastern European countries) – headed by Igor Khashin – has benefitted 90,000 euros from the town council of Setubal over the last three years.

Early in April, Igor Khashin was also one of the names highlighted by Inna Ohnivets – the Ukrainian ambassador in Portugal – who alerted the media of the risk of espionage in allowing Russians receiving refugees who – in Igor Khashin’s case – are known to have close links to the Russian embassy.

According to Expresso, the 47-year-old Khashin has represented Portugal in Moscow at a world congress of Russian compatriots, where he signed a declaration agreeing with the annexation of Crimea and considering Ukraine’s Maidan revolution to be a coup d’etat.

The town council and its communist mayor Andre Martins, however, deny any irregularity in the registration of personal documents or that confidentiality is broken. Nevertheless, the council removed its Russian employee Yulia from processing incoming refugees until the controversy has been unequivocally settled and called for a full investigation by the Ministry of Interior.

The problem with this story is, that it is set against the PCP’s
(Portuguese Communist Party) support of Russia and its strong negative feelings towards Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Pavlo Sadokha – president of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal – told CNN Portugal that the infiltration of pro-Putin Russians in NGOs, that support Ukranian war refugees, is not confined to Setúbal; similar reports are also coming out of Aveiro, Montijo, Gondomar, and Albufeira.

This controversy seems to be much more serious than the Russia-related data protection fiasco uncovered in Lisbon last year for which the Lisbon City Council was fined 1.2 million euros. At that time the council had been supplying the Russian embassy – targeted by demonstrations – with the names and contacts of the three dissidents behind the events.

‘In that case, the issue was administrative failing (albeit very serious)’ – says SIC political commentator Luis Marques Mendes – ‘this time it is almost wartime spying’.

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

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 the 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)

Portuguese citizenship is hot. The latest report by the borders agency SEF shows that last year more than 74,000 foreigners applied for Portuguese nationality. For the first time in history, the country’s foreign resident population exceeds half a million people (5% of the total population).

Most requests for citizenship are related to naturalization and reunion. Foreigners who acquired citizenship in 2019 came from Brazil (23.000), Israel (18.500), Cape Verde (6500), Angola (3000), Ukraine (2500), Guinea-Bissau (2500), and Turkey (1500).

Brazilians remain the largest foreign resident community in Portugal (with 150.000, representing 26% of last year’s total), followed by Cape Verdeans, Brits, Romanians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Italians, French, and Angolans.

Last year also saw a notable increase in the number of Indians and Nepalese coming for work. There are now approximately 18,000 Indians and 17.000 Nepalese legally living in the country.

Asylum applications increased as well by 45% last year, reaching 1850, the highest since 2015. The majority were single men from the African continent.

Even the Golden Visa program has seen an uplift of applications in the first quarter of 2020. Between January and April, 260 applicants and 515 dependents received their residence cards. Although the Golden Visa program was due to be curtailed in the 2019 State Budget, it will be continued in the light of the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.

On the contrary, markedly fewer refugee statuses were granted citizenship  (183 in 2019 against 286 in 2020), predominantly to nationals of Asian countries.

However, as part of a European reallocation program, Greece finally succeeded in relocating 25 Afghan boys between 15 an17 years of age from their overcrowded migrant camps to Portugal. Besides Germany, the UK, and Luxembourg, Portugal is one of the few countries in the EU that in fact responds to the Greek request. The intention is to host 250 unaccompanied minors by the end of the year.

In contrast to other countries aiming to reduce immigration, the Portuguese socialist-led minority government wants to attract more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country’s low birth-rate and aging population.

Portugal is one of the 10 EU states where fewer than 5% of residents are foreign-born. It is in this light that Parliament just before the holidays approved Portuguese nationality at birth for children of legal immigrants who have lived in the country for at least one year.

Keep fit — Fique saudável (pic Público/Sapo)

‘Oh nee, wij zijn Pashtuns! Het allerbelangrijkste is, dat ik geen ruzie met mijn familie krijg, met mijn ouders en mijn ooms en tantes.’
Negentien is ze, slank als een rietstengel met een lang gezicht waarin rustige, bruine ogen en een dunne mond. Op haar hoofd een donkergele doek met zwarte kraaltjes. De verticale strepen op haar rood-blauwe tuniek versterken haar frêle gestalte. ‘Ik zit hier al een paar jaar op school en het schiet maar niet op’, zucht ze.’ ‘Praten lukt nog wel maar schrijven is echt moeilijk’
Ashwa komt uit Afghanistan maar heeft bijna haar hele leven in Pakistan gewoond. Ze wil tandartsassistente worden – ‘om mensen te helpen’ – maar twijfelt of het ooit nog zover komt
‘Misschien moet je iets gaan studeren wat niet zo lang duurt, iets met verzorging of zo’, opper ik voorzichtig.
‘Ik wil echt niks met kinderen. Veel te druk. En ook niet met suffe bejaarden’, antwoordt ze fel.
Dan pakt ze een portemonnee uit haar tas.
‘Heb ik vanmorgen gevonden, bij de tramhalte.’
‘Zat er nog iets in?’
‘Ja, best wel veel, ongeveer 90 euro en een paar kaartjes. Ik heb de eigenaar al gebeld en die wou de portemonnee thuis bij me komen ophalen. Dat kan echt niet! Ik geef hem wel aan de politie’
‘Dus als ik het goed begrijp, gaat alleen je familie erover met wie je gaat trouwen?’
Ze knikt.
‘En, zijn er al gegadigden langs gekomen?’
‘Ja hoor, best wel veel’, zegt ze niet zonder trots. ‘Mijn familie gaat dan alles heel precies uitzoeken over die jongens’. Ze hebben al iemand op het oog.
‘Oh!’. Ik kijk haar verbaasd aan.
‘Hij is 22 en zit ook nog op school.’
‘En wat vind jij zelf belangrijk of maakt dat toch niks meer uit?’
‘Hij moet knap zijn – want dat ben ik niet – en lang
‘Is die dat?’
‘Nee. Hij is best klein maar ziet er wel heel lief uit.’

18 oktober 2018

‘Only foreigners work here, he confesses. It’s hard work and poorly paid. Sixteen hours a day for the minimum wage. You keep going because they give you a contract, that is needed for a permit.’ Amit Kumar, originating from India is 32 years old and works since 2013 in Portugal. First in horticulture in the Algarve and after that in a restaurant in Belem. Although he is paying tax and social security, he runs the risk of being expelled as he can’t prove to have entered the country in a legal way. In 2017 he falls ill and has to be admitted to hospital for a week. Being unable to pay the bill, he asks his uncle in India for help. ‘I was supposed to support my family over there, not the other way around.’
When he returns to work, he discovers he is fired.

The ruling socialist party wants the government to speed up the legalization of undocumented immigrants, who have been working for more than a year and paid tax and social security. Even if they have entered the country illegally. The party invokes on Article 123 in the Aliens Act, which permits residency for foreigners on humanitarian grounds.

The reason for the amendment was the large-scale demonstration in May, when immigrants gathered before Parliament, expressing that they were treated like second-rank citizens, even though they paid tax and social insurance.

‘It concerns a group of approximately 30.000 people, who have work commitments but no rights whatsoever’, explains Flora Silva, president of the solidarity organization Olho Vivo (www.olho-vivo.org). ‘Most of them are from Lisbon but also from the Algarve, where many people from Nepal and Indonesia work in agriculture.

‘The law doesn’t promote the integration of immigrants, who work here for many years but are not treated as human beings’, says Timóteo Macedo, president of Solidaridade Imigrante (Solim). ‘Our Government argues, that we need more immigrants for our economy. Fine. They are already here, just come and see!’

Research by Solim in April showed that illegal immigrants pay on average 6 times more for a visit to the Emergency Department and 8 times more for a doctor’s consultation in Primary Health Care, than legal employees. ‘When undocumented workers pay their social security’, Macedo points out, ’there shouldn’t be any difference at all, isn’t it?’

Bom fim de semana            Enjoy the weekend                       (pic Público)


Nearly 1 in every 100 world citizens is on the run  –  UNHCR

‘I am very sad and angry. For more than a year in Portugal and still no permit. Why’s that?’, Mustafa asks. ‘They keep saying I have to be patient.’

When ISIS claimed one of his younger brothers for the Jihad at the end of 2015, Mustafa al-Sabee – a 30-year-old, successful tailor from Mosul – decided to flee Iraq with his family. He pays 3700 euros to reach Syria and another 5000 to enter Turkey, where he leaves his sick parents, his two younger brothers and a sister behind. He crosses the Aegean Sea by rubber boat and reaches Greece in February 2016. Six weeks later, he flies together with a selected group of – mainly Syrian – refugees to Portugal, convinced to get asylum there.

Mustafa belongs to one of the more than 1200 refugees, allocated to Portugal by the European Commission, within the framework of resettlement of refugees from Italy and Greece.

He himself would rather have gone to Belgium – where he knows a cousin – or to Germany, where distant relatives live.

In the meantime, he has been staying in Portugal for over a year, and despite the fact that pre-selection took place in Greece, he’s still waiting for his residence permit.
Without that, he can’t work officially and his family is not allowed to join him.

Resettlement of refugees is slow. To date, only 20% of the promised number of relocations of refugees from Greece and Italy, has been realized by all European member states together. Although Portugal accepted over 40% of its assigned refugees, it does not succeed in retaining them, as almost half have already left the country!

Refugees arriving in Portugal want to leave. Not at least because they prefer Northern European countries – like Germany, France or Switzerland – and feel utterly “lost” in Portugal.

Moreover, they do not find the conditions they hoped for and are distributed across the countryside, while most of them have an urban background. In addition, asylum procedures are very slow, there are problems with the recognition of diplomas and there is a lack of Arabic-speaking interpreters.

In the last 18 months, only 64 (5%) of the asylum seekers were granted a residence permit.
Is it surprising that many are heading for greener pastures up north?

Bom fim de semana