A citizens-led group “Bem Vindos Refugiados Algarve” has leapt onto the regional stage just as government sources suggest Portugal is ready to take as many as 3000 migrants held in refugee camps in Italy and Greece.
Within hours of the initiative going online, it was being flooded with messages of help and support.
Locals of all nationalities were offering clothes, books, toys, food, even language lessons – but the thrust of the plan is to encourage people to take refugees into their own homes.
“This is about integration”, explained the prime-mover behind the idea, Loulé sculptress Toin Adams. “It’s when you get eye-to-eye with another human being across your kitchen table that this whole desperate situation comes into focus.The ‘they’ disappears. Now its just someone who needs help and who could be you if the tables were turned.
“What is missing so much in all the coverage of this crisis to date is that these people are individuals, like you and me. It is hard to see refugees en masse as human, but that is exactly what they are.
“Right now, we are being blown away by the number of people who want to get involved. We have a lot of expats who want to be part of it, as well as local Portuguese”.
The “plan” is developing as the days pass. For now, the group is hoping to link up with the online site set up in Germany and Austria, www.welcome-refugees.net to tie up with agencies, so that the logistics of matching people up with migrants can go ahead.
Bem Vindo Refugiados is hoping to make contact with Portugal’s own CPR refugee commission and is in touch with the Moncarapacho-Fuzeta delegation of the Red Cross which announced last week that it had land to give for a refugee camp.
That story has changed slightly (click here) as the Red Cross land is considered too close to touristic areas, but the group is keen to seize the willingness of local entities who want to help, as they feels this is the only way forwards.
“We can all mouth off about lovely ideas like saving animals, etc., but can we share a piece of our pie? I think that is what this all boils down to. And so far, what we’re seeing on the Facebook page that started only two days ago is that people want to help”, Adams told us.
With 468 likes by this morning, the page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bem-Vindo-Refugiados-Algarve/854225891339531?ref=hl) came online as government sources confirmed Portugal is likely to take double the number of refugees than originally suggested.
A meeting to coordinate the various groups that will need to be involved is due to take place on Monday, but this morning Público is talking about 3000 refugees arriving on national soil, as opposed 1500 originally publicised.
Público’s story also covers comments by Socialist leader António Costa who has said the refugee influx could be used to recover Portugal’s neglected forests.
“When I see the state of our forests and I see the owners and local authorities complaining about the lack of manpower to keep them in order, why is it that we don’t recognise the great opportunity here”, he queried.
As the issue continues to hog the world’s headlines – and even Britain is seen to be doing a u-turn on its attitude to fleeing migrants – here in the Bem Vindos Refugiados Algarve is busily trying to harness the growing wind of pro-activity.
The Facebook page is bilingual and there are hopes that it may be able to go national.
Anyone and everyone who supports the idea is encouraged to get involved.