Photos taken this week by Lusa's Nuno Veiga when ACT, the labour authority, conducted searches of undocumented migrants at the red berries business Amazing Promisse in Herdade Flor de Brejo, near Odemira
Photos taken this week by Lusa's Nuno Veiga when ACT, the labour authority, conducted searches of undocumented migrants at the red berries business Amazing Promisse in Herdade Flor de Brejo, near Odemira

Human trafficking: “time bomb under Portugal’s feet”

Government scrambles to impose new rules on sports academies

Human trafficking in many forms is playing out across Portugal – this is the conclusion after a week in which hundreds of undocumented migrants have been found living in squalor near Lisbon, trafficked for the purpose of illegal clam harvesting, not long after the ‘shock’ of alleged child trafficking by a sports academy.

Add these situations to cases already well known of hundreds of immigrants duped into paying large sums of money in order to work in red berry explorations in the Alentejo, and the latest ‘raid’ on illegal immigrants in one farm near Odemira, and the country has, according to leader writer Eduardo Dâmaso, editorial director general of Correio da Manhã, a “veritable time bomb that could explode beneath our feet”.

There is already social disquiet about various issues with immigrants

The government “has to define, with major urgency, its mechanisms to prevent and repress these crimes.

“And civil society has to overcome its lethargy”, says Dâmaso.

“The cases in the last few days, in football, in the harvesting of clams (from areas polluted with heavy metals) in the Tejo, and in the Alentejo, are a red card to all of us”, says Dâmaso.

Elsewhere, SIC Notícias confirms that the government is meaning to get to grips with the football disgrace ASAP. It means to impose a series of new measures on clubs taking in foreign athletes.

Secretary of State for Sports João Paul Correia explains: “”We are talking about the obligation for these young athletes to have sports insurance; for the criminal records of all coaches and employees to be clarified; to demand minimum training for coaches…”

The situation at Bsports Academy in Famalicão had apparently been under investigation since 2020. It has taken this long to secure enough evidence to ensure the vulnerable children/ teens and young men have been removed and so ‘protected’ from any further possible exploitation/ virtual imprisonment and neglect.

If all suspicions prove well-founded, this situation has been playing out in plain sight for far too long. Mário Costa, former president of the general assembly of the League of Clubs and founder of Bsports – and who has since resigned – holds other high-level appointments in establishment entities (he is still vice-president of the business confederation of the Community of Portuguese Speaking countries, and president of the Union of Exporters of the Community of Portuguese Speaking countries). 

It is not clear how other entities, certainly in the world of youth football, could not have been aware of the alleged exploitation at Bsports.

Today, Correio da Manhã shows desperate images of blocked urinals, miserable food, even a note threatening suicide by one player deprived of his passport.

Yesterday, the paper interviewed a father from El Salvador who claims the company “robbed his son’s dreams, deceived us all”.

The drama centres on families from Africa/ South America/ Asia persuaded to part with around €1,300 per month, sometimes more, to secure their sons’ football future.

According to the father from El Salvador, they were told that their children would study, learn three languages and even receive residency in Portugal for the money – along with receiving football coaching to a standard that would see them contracted to a first division club and able to “circulate through Europe”.

“We did everything to ensure (our son) could get here; we spent all our money and made many sacrifices…”

And all the while, it seems the boy will have been living in vastly reduced circumstances; not getting enough to eat and certainly not facing the bright future that had been painted.

In this case, the father and son have been reunited and are staying temporarily in an apartment before giving their testimony to a judge (to be heard ‘in future memory’). They will then be returning to El Salvador.

Other families are on their way from far-flung countries to collect their children being cared for by State-affiliated institutions.

All of them have said they “just want justice”.

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