An urban jungle... just one cameo in the aftermath of last Saturday's fire: a survivor, with no idea where to find permanent shelter for his family: António Cotrim/ Lusa

Amnesty International wades into Portugal’s rising immigrant drama

Echoes criticisms at grass roots: “there is no supervision: it’s an urban jungle…”

Amnesty International has waded into the heightened debate on Portugal’s reception of immigrant workers, amplifying the criticism that there has been no control over housing conditions.

AI’s Portugal representative Pedro Neto has told Lusa: “We live in an urban jungle, where there is no control, no supervision by anyone (…) The flow of entry into the country has increased, but the resources and people to manage these entries has not, quite the contrary. Some time ago we saw the extinction of the immigration and borders service (SEF) and it is being implemented without us yet understanding how/ what SEF does, not only at the gates of entry into the country, but also throughout the country. Who is going to do this (in future) and who is going to supervise to protect people? We have had many organisations that have run out of resources,” he added.

Pedro Neto echoed the criticisms earlier in the week following the horrendous fire in Mouraria that claimed the lives of two Indians:  public policies to provide a framework for the growth of labour needs in intensive agriculture, construction and tourism, are lacking

Low wages and the activities of human trafficking networks place migrants in a situation of vulnerability that is difficult for them to overcome, he went on.

For Pedro Neto, there is a lack of public policies and bodies with the capacity to accompany the institutional discourse of welcoming refugees and migrants, stresses Lusa.

AI’s head in Portugal fears horrors like the Mouraria fire will be replicated in Lisbon and elsewhere unless measures are put in place.

He cited Beja (“where there are many migrants living in overcrowded houses”) as well as the Algarve. Lisbon is not the only ‘problem area’

A study by the Migrations Observatory published in December actually showed that a fifth of foreigners living in Portugal live in overcrowded accommodation.

According to the report (Anuário Estatístico Anual), the rate of foreigners living in Portugal in overcrowded accommodation stood at 20. 3% in 2021 – one percentage point higher than the previous year.

“There are reports on the statistics of foreigners in Portugal that say there are still a very significant number of migrants who are not even registered with the national health service,” said Pedro Neto.

This suggests to him that the Authority for Working Conditions (ACT) lacks the necessary resources to “supervise on the ground”, and also that Portugal’s Labour Law – which is “strong for stable and permanent workers” – remains “fragile for temporary workers”.

In the same way, the High Commission for Migrations (ACM), as the body responsible for migrations, should “be vigilant and have the means to be on the ground”, he said

“And then, also, (there should be) a housing law that safeguards many issues. For example, these issues of shared housing. Whoever is responsible for housing policy in Portugal is in real estate speculation, and the banks, with the attribution of housing credits. The State has been refusing, not to put a ceiling on rents, because this makes no sense in a market economy, but to regulate with other types of offers and guarantees”, he argued.

According to Pedro Neto, the challenge of supervision is “large” and should involve local councils: “It is a very difficult job. The country, despite being small, is vast and needs resources. Now, there’s another reality here that can help in the solution – the organisations on the ground, local organisations, local foundations, private institutions of social solidarity, non-governmental organisations, associations, which – knowing the concrete reality on the ground – can play a more important role. What they need is more resources and funding that they do not have”.

Source: Lusa