WYD: Pilgrims participate in the World Youth Day
World Youth Day earlier this month could well have been a moment where infections 'increased' as Lisbon was invaded by well over a million pilgrims from all over the world Photo: ANTONIO COTRIM/LUSA

Thousands of young pilgrims “haven’t returned to countries of origin” since World Youth Day

It really is ‘no big deal’, authorities assure

These pilgrims came to Portugal under the pretext of World Youth Day but really they were seeking better opportunities for life”.

This is the opinion of a police source quoted by Expresso in an article today on the “several hundreds if not thousands” of young people who arrived in Portugal for the Roman Catholic jamboree earlier this month, and have not returned to their home countries.

Some have already “expressed interest in future legalisation” with foreigners and borders agency SEF – itself in the final throes of ‘extinction’ and merger with regular police forces. Others have simply disappeared.

The trend began before even the Pope arrived on national soil, with his message to the assembled sea of young faces on the importance of advancing through life “without fear”.

Almost 200 pilgrims from Angola and Cape Verde didn’t even make it to their ‘first base’ in Leiria.

According to Expresso, the majority who have gone AWOL are from PALOP (Portuguese speaking) countries – and authorities’ capacity to catch up with them is, in the final analysis, zero.

Said a source, in theory, yes, one could try to cross reference the names inscribed for the event with airport departure data – but this is only a partial solution, as pilgrims could have left from another country, which would imply asking each Schengen State if they had details of such-and-such person having left, “in a list with tens of thousands of names…” (Tens of thousands? Expresso mentions only ‘thousands’…)

For those who have stayed in Portugal and go on to ‘show interest in legalisation’, again it would be necessary to “identify the profile of these new requests to try and find more concrete numbers.

“Is it efficient? Is there the means for this? No”, said Expresso’s source.

Thus the decision essentially to do nothing.

“Cases known (pre-World Youth Day) were not considered a threat to the event, thus there was no justification seen for the adoption of measures aimed at localising (the young people) and control. This would have constituted an interference in the liberty of movement” that they had by dint of temporary visas. Now that those visas have expired, the approach is much the same.

“If these citizens are detected and identified by authorities, remaining in Portugal in a state of irregular permanence, proceedings under the Foreigners Law will be adopted, and they will be informed that they have to abandon national territory in the space of 10-20 days”, a source from SEF explains.

Cape Verdean bishop D. Arlindo Furtado has told Catholic radio station ‘Nova de Maria’ meantime that he is not the least bit put out by the alleged disappearance of so many young people.

“For some, it may have been the only opportunity they had to see to their health, to visit an uncle who is ill, and also to see the world”, he said, stressing that had World Youth Day been in Cape Verde, no one would have worried about Portuguese young people not returning home, particularly as they don’t even need visas to travel to Cape Verde.

Thus the bottom line is that it may never be clear how many of the million-plus arrivals for World Youth Day seized the opportunity to enter Europe and ‘vanish’/see the world/ attend to their health/ visit a sick uncle – but, if authorities are correct, it really doesn’t matter as none of these God-fearing young people will have posed any kind of security risk.

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