Press exposés on these "slaves of the river" date back years Photo: Luciano Alvarez/ Rui Gaudêncio

Illegal trafficking: four people arrested to hear bail terms

Immigrants return to live in squalid conditions

Four people arrested during a this week’s mega operation in Setúbal to combat criminal networks associated with illegal capture and trafficking of clams (bivalves) will hear bail terms later today – as many of the immigrants caught up in this drama have started returning to the ‘squalid conditions’ from which they were removed.

This is the sad ‘reality’ of illegal trafficking in Portugal. The victims continue to be victims.

Early reports this week referred to the almost 250 immigrants (all of them apparently ‘undocumented’, ie not legal in Portugal) being given temporary shelter in nearby sports halls.

But that is exactly the issue: ‘temporary’ – and in this case, the temporary nature of the accommodation has already run its course.

Says Correio da Manhá today, “many of the immigrants, victims of labour exploitation by criminal gangs in the harvesting of clams returned yesterday to the warehouse in Samouco, Alcochete, from which they had been rescued the day before…”

The paper stresses that among them are children, who were also ‘exploited’ by the criminal group dismantled in a large police operation that sees the four individuals now facing charges (three Portuguese and one Vietnamese), along with a number of ‘legal entities’.

The mega operation however is seen as a success. 

“More than 500 methamphetamine tablets were seized, as well as 15 vehicles and seven outboard engines, a forklift, two bladed weapons, documentary evidence, equipment for sorting and packing shellfish and 71,000 euros”, reports SIC Notícias.

The operation follows more than two years of investigation carried out by the Central Criminal Investigation Unit (UCIC) of the Maritime Police. There have been other arrests and property seizures. The national maritime authority adds that investigations are still ongoing.

But what will happen now to the 249/ 243 (numbers vary according to news sources)  ‘illegal immigrants’ has really not been explained.

These people appear to remain hugely vulnerable, to the extent that they don’t even want to give their names to any statements to reporters, “for fear of reprisals”.

Said one to Correio da Manhã: “I wanted to come to Europe, but I never believed I would live like this…”

Observador online’s report on the conditions of the Samouco warehouse starts with the stark “I have never seen anything worse” – and explains how this misery has been playing out, very much in plain sight of local communities, for “many years”.

The immigrants allegedly being exploited are in the main from Malaysia, Thailand and Nepal.

Says Observador, “one of the doubts that exist at the moment, and which will be investigated, is if these immigrants all came from the area of Odemira, where thousands of immigrants live and work in greenhouses, or if they came from other places…”

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