Refugees “feel humiliated” in Portugal – that’s why so many leave

As the country is assailed by wildfire tragedies, the failure of Portugal’s refugee programme may seem an irrelevance. But it is yet another systemic disaster story, showing no sign of any quick fix.

Público has tackled the subject, under the headline: “Almost half the 1500 refugees who arrived have already left Portugal”.

We’re told how people who have literally had to flee for their lives are made to feel ‘humiliated’ by their reception here – invariably a destination that was well down on their bucket-lists of choices.

The reason lies in the delays in all ‘mechanisms’ that should start integrating new arrivals from day one.

Says Público, incoming refugees “expect work, the guarantee of regular lesson in Portuguese, a statute that promises residency within the next three to five years” – but what they get is a taste of Portuguese bureaucracy.

Explains 20-year-old Syrian Lara Alalabi, one of the main reasons for people leaving is the delay in concession of “statute of refugee”.

Even though Portugal’s arrivals have been through a vetting process in camps in Greece and Italy, they are still not officially conceded refugee status when they get here. What they get is “an authorisation of provisional residency”, says Público, which runs out after six months, and then has to be renewed.

“From the first day we were delighted to have come to Portugal”, Alalabi told Público. “But we didn’t expect the conditions we have…”

Some of her arrival group have been lucky. Others have left the country – with the official response being that “these people are not prisoners. They can come and go as they please” – although of course, without official papers, they remain stateless and ‘vulnerable’ to all kinds of predators.

Público’s article is not designed to give hope, but to draw attention to a situation that is clearly being left for a ‘slow news day’ by the rest of the mainstream.

Alalabi’s partner, Khalid, aged 24, could have a job as a translator. It is simply that his aspirant employers cannot take him on before he has a Social Security number and a bank account – both of which are proving incredibly difficult to obtain.

Meantime, the country continues to hemorrhage refugees. Of the 1511 who have arrived since December 2015, “half or more than half have left” – and although many are notified to return, once their whereabouts are established, “this does not mean they all do”.

A source for borders control agency SEF tells the paper: “Many times we go to the airport to wait for people (notified to return) and they are not on the plane”.

The majority of ‘exits’ head for “other points in Europe” where friends and family members have started new lives.

Ironically, it was only a year ago that prime minister António Costa suggested Portugal would increase its quota of refugees to employ the new arrivals on cleaning Portugal’s ‘abandoned forests’.

That suggestion went down like a lead balloon as many refugees have what has been described as “life projects” that envisage professional careers.

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