A senior union delegate from the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) has revealed that his force faces a critical lack of manpower. “There is an enormous shortage of resources in the whole of the Algarve,” said Vítor Vinagre, warning that it is currently “impossible to perform inspections on beggars and illegal immigrants”.
“The Christmas period is characterised by a sharp rise in the number of beggars, particularly Romanians, who move in groups across Europe. One day they are in Paris, the next they are in Spain and then they arrive in Portugal,” said Vinagre.
The beggars’ modus operandi is to leave the women with babies or very small children near crossroads, such as Quatro Estradas in Albufeira, or at traffic lights. The holiday season means greater numbers of Romanian beggars and their children near large supermarkets, frequently outside city centres and so beyond the reach of authorities. But Faro, Albufeira and Portimão are some of the well-known points where Romanian families congregate and ask for money in exchange for helping to park shoppers’ cars.
According to Vinagre, Romanians tend to work in groups, but other illegal and jobless Eastern European immigrants operate on their own. They resort to begging because, as one of the men detained by the SEF explained, begging in Portugal is more lucrative than working in their own country. Typical Eastern European beggars are male, aged between 30 and 50, illegal and of no fixed address. They either sleep on the streets, in friends’ houses or abandoned premises.
The Algarve is also recording more cases of young, poverty-stricken Portuguese beggars. They congregate near big commercial outlets, a phenomenon that inevitably leads to an upsurge in crime. Maria João Penha of the Instituto de Apoio Criança (IAC) confirms this rising trend among young people. She revealed that the number of calls made to the SOS Criança telephone line has risen from 103 last year to 750 so far this year. Penha cites an IAC survey confirming that, despite the rise in Portuguese beggars, the majority of such youngsters are children of Eastern European immigrants. This also casts doubt on the effectiveness of the SEF since, according to Penha, “many are illegal and without established residency”.