Human trafficking “out of control” in Portugal, “particularly in the Alentejo”

Human trafficking is “out of control” in Portugal. In the words of an inspector working for SEF borders control agency, what’s happening behind the scenes is close to “unacceptable 21st century slavery”.

Official figures on the number of foreigners victims of labour exploitation are just the tip of the iceberg.

Said Acácio Pereira, president of SEF inspectors’ syndicate SCIF, “if you were to multiply by 20 the number of cases of human trafficking on official records, it would still be too low to show the reality of what we feel on the ground”.

And the reasons for so many cases slipping through the net? Lack of SEF inspectors to combat this kind of crime.

This is why Pereira has chosen the subject for a conference for SCIF in Lisbon on Friday.

“Human Trafficking – SEF and the battle against people trafficking” is SCIF’s way of trying to get media exposure for the problem, in the hope that something will change.

Talking to Lusa, he said his union wants to “alert Portuguese society, MPs and principally the Government to the necessity to better tackle and prevent this calamity in Portugal”.

“We have the notion there are thousands of abuses going on simultaneously every month if not every day”, he stressed.

Yet last year, SEF logged just 20 inquiries (against 15 in 2016, 18 the year before) which, he accepted, inspectors consider to be “ridiculous” and “an insult to the people who every year are victims of labour and sexual exploitation in Portugal”.

Last year’s data “shows that exploitation in the agricultural sector, especially in the Alentejo, is out of control”, “due to lack of capacity of SEF to check the crushing majority of estates where illegal workers are victims of abuses”, he continued – stressing the majority of people affected come from the Indian subcontinent, Brazil and Eastern Europe.

Residents of the lower Alentejo have long been aware of the conditions endured by Nepalese agricultural workers, as well as tragedies that play out as they try to stay hidden in plain sight.

In October 2016 – for just one example – two Nepalese farm workers were died, and two others were seriously injured, “following a police chase in São Teotónio”: the ‘chase’ initiated because agents noticed the van the men were in had a faulty backlight. Police radioed further ahead tried to stop it, and the men, knowing their papers were not in order, tried to get away, colliding headlong into a tree in the process.

Before he recently took ‘leave’ of his post as mayor of Aljezur, José Amarelinho said he would do everything he could to fight the spread of plastic greenhouses that hide tales of human misery and contribute nothing to the local economy.

National weekly Expresso carried an exposé entitled “Fruits of Circumstance” back in 2015, detailing the “miserable conditions” in which men from almost every country in the third world – and even some in between – work for American multinationals producing ‘berry fruits’.

“Some eat and sleep beside their workplaces. Others, in overstuffed hostels with ‘zero stars’, in decrepit dwellings, improvised residences, outdoor camps, containers. Throughout the margins of São Teotónio parish, their presence is evident at the same time as they are invisible. The greenhouse beings. They don’t even appear in census data…”

And the situation just goes on to this day. Thus SCIF’s “fist on the table”.

Says website, SEF inspectors want to see more ‘boots on the ground’ in the Alentejo to “allow the permanent collection of information and a system of checks in which all competent entities participate”.


But adult exploitation is not SCIF’s only concern. Inspectors say “more and more, Portugal is being used as a gateway to Europe’s Schengen space by child traffickers”.

The children are predominantly from Africa and “are used for exploitation and slavery in countries like France and Germany”.

“In the majority of cases African children arrive carrying false documents and accompanied by adults with legal papers, almost always from Portuguese-speaking countries”, Acácio Pereira told journalists.

“Our inspectors have managed to arrest traffickers and rescue some children, but our perception is that we have to have more people on board if the major part of this trafficking does not continue to escape our control”.

Angola is the country where most of the children arrive from, he added – saying his inspectors’ feelings are borne out by “the most important European organisation that dedicates itself to this phenomenon”: GRETA, standing for the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings”.

In its latest report, published this month, GRETA “placed Portugal as one of the countries where human trafficking has grown the most, and one of five European countries in which labour exploitation exceeds sex trafficking”.

Even worse, SCIF claims GRETA has logged a “worrying tendency pushing Portugal to the top of the list of countries with most child disappearances” (see box below).

When approached for a response, a source for SEF denied the force needed more personnel, citing the same figures given by SCIF and explaining that they referred to 20 defendants and 67 victims.

Diário de Notícias reported last week that authorities succeeded in the “largest condemnation ever for this kind of crime” – a man and a woman jailed for 16 and 15 years respectively for their roles in a network of 26 other defendants who “lured foreigners to work in Portugal”, housing them in subhuman conditions, involving “cases of hunger in exchange for a paltry salary”.


Baby Angélico

GRETA’s ‘child disappearances’ have nothing to do with Madeleine McCann. They are more focused on the vanishing into thin air of African children who pass through Portugal on false papers and are never tracked by authorities again. One such case came to the attention of the press almost six years ago when a woman, later arrested in Belgium suspected of being part of an Eastern European trafficking ring selling babies in Portugal, was admitted to Porto’s Santa Maria Hospital with her apparently adopted baby son, who she managed to ‘register’ as Portuguese, with the Christian name Angélico, while the two were in hospital.
Airport security cameras later filmed the woman boarding a plane at Francisco Sá Carneiro airport. She was not carrying Angélico, and there has been no record of him anywhere in Portugal ever since.