Monte Gordo migrants admit “we were in a group of 12”

The nigglingly odd story of how eight young Moroccans managed to travel almost 700 kms to Portugal by sea in a rickety old fishing boat has started unravelling – lending weight to authorities’ interpretation that this is a start of efforts by people-traffickers to open another migrant route into Europe.

Say reports today, the healthy young men have “admitted” themselves that at the beginning of their journey they numbered 12.

Authorities have also video proof – the image of a frame has been published today – showing “at least 12” young men in what looks like a large speedboat, waters churning in its wake.

Says tabloid Correio da Manhã, “the other elements of the group may have completed the crossing with the help of other boats, disembarking in the south of Spain”.

Luís Rodrigues, proprietor of a guesthouse in Vila Real de Santo António where the eight young men first stayed, said: “This was just a test so that in future more people will come…”

Rodrigues said he doubted much of the ‘initial story’: that the boys had survived on a diet of fresh shellfish and fruit while five days at sea (click here).

They were all physically in good shape and well-nourished, he said. “I don’t think they were five days at sea…”

Rodrigues also queried the fact that “none of them spoke a word of French” – something he found ‘strange for young Moroccan students’.

Whatever the truth – and the ‘opening of a new migrant route’ scenario is being taken extremely seriously – the youngsters themselves are now in the care of the country’s refugee programme and have already been offered paid work and temporary accommodation.

Jornal de Notícias writes that a construction company in Baião (near Porto) is keen to take them on as it doesn’t have enough workers.

Said director of the company Paulo Portela: “These migrants are welcome. From our point of view the only problem has to do with the fact of one of them being only 16. If that is the case, by law we cannot employ him”.

Portela current employs 70 workers, explains JN – “among them seven Indians and one Vietnamese”. He “wants to move forwards with hiring more foreign labour”.

The building company boss told JN: “We cannot compete with the salaries our own citizens can earn in construction abroad”.

For now, Portela’s approach of a job offer with accommodation included has been communicated to SEF (borders agency) as the young men’s request for asylum goes through its various stages.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com