And those already here have told national radio Antena 1 that they wish they hadn’t come.
This appears to be the true picture of a country that only weeks ago was bracing itself for the imminent arrival of thousands fleeing atrocities in Syria and elsewhere.
Luís Gouveia, the national deputy director of borders and immigration service SEF, has told Diário de Notícias that Portugal may be ready to receive 4,754 refugees (as part of EU quotas) but is unlikely to see more than 50 arrive before Christmas, and even that isn’t set in stone.
The problem, he explained, is not simply bureaucratic. People are actively refusing to come here.
“The crushing majority of asylum seekers coming into Europe want to get to Germany and Sweden where they have family, or where they know they can find work and have a good lifestyle. Preferences are always for northern countries,” said Gouveia. “The Iberian Peninsula is unknown.”
He added that of 40 asylum seekers recently offered refuge in Spain, only 12 agreed to it.
Here, RTP’s Antena 1 radio station has carried an interview with refugees living in Portugal, saying they warn fleeing Syrians to “choose another country”.
Ali, Ayad and Mubarak told “three stories of disillusion”, stressing they had been “abandoned” by the authorities in Portugal and treated without any form of dignity.
Lack of work was at the root of complaints. Mubarak, from Somalia, told reporters that “three weeks ago three families left the country with children for Germany. Why? Because of everything they had been through here”.
“Minimum support” is how Ayad explained his ‘welcome’ to Portugal from war-torn Iraq.
All Ayad is waiting for, he told the station, are valid papers so that he can leave – and he warned any incoming Syrians should choose “France or Germany, where the life is good. But here, crisis, crisis, crisis. Let these people choose another place. It is better for them”.
In a bid to show Portugal’s willingness to help refugees according to EU guidelines, the country’s ambassador to Greece Rui Alberto Tereno visited the island of Kos last week, explaining to migrants what they could expect to find here.
Meantime, in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, negative chain-letters have started doing the rounds on Portuguese social media, questioning the sense in taking people “who may be jihadists in disguise”.
As expatriate residents who are trying to “welcome” refugees to Portugal explain, “some nasty natures are revealing themselves … there is so much fear everywhere”. But the groups also say they have found almost zero response to their efforts from the authorities, including the Portuguese Council for Refugees and the Red Cross.
“As far as I know, not one of our offers of help or accommodation has been acted upon,” said Toin Adams, a leading light behind the Bem-Vindos Refugiados Algarve initiative.
Yet offers are still coming in from all quarters, even people who have very little themselves.
A letter received at the Resident’s offices earlier this week from an unemployed German couple living in the Beira Baixa offered a “stone house which is pretty much empty”.
“We are on welfare,” wrote Jan Feliz Krutsch. “So we don’t have much money but we have room which we would like to share, especially with families with kids.”
The letter has been passed on to Bem-Vindos Refugiados, which continues to compile its database of people offering help and support, despite the fact that no-one appears to want to make use of it.
By NATASHA DONN email@example.com
Photo: Syrian and Sudanese refugees arriving in Penela on November 7 after a long journey from Egypt
Photo by: PAULO NOVAIS/LUSA