Notes on the Migration Phenomenon in Portugal

From September 23 to 29, 2019 Fr. Alfredo Gonçalves, a Scalabrinian missionary and consultant in the “Mobilidade Humana” section of the Conferência dos Bispos do Brazil – CNBB (the Brazilian bishops’ conference), visited Portugal and took part in a series of conferences and events. Here are some of his considerations

Rome, October 11, 2019 – At the invitation of the Obra Católica Portuguesa de Migrações (OCPM) and Caritas Portuguesa, from September 23 to 29, 2019 we visited some regions and dioceses of Portugal. (…) This experience translates into some observations on the subject of human mobility. 

The first has to do with the history of Portugal as a country of emigration, both from the continental territory and from the Atlantic islands. Over the centuries, it has been a population often in the diaspora, like many others around the world. Many people and families have left its territory for countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, the United States, Canada, Germany, England, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Australia among others.

More and More of an Attraction

Currently, while Portugal’s population is around 10 million, it is estimated that the number of Portuguese living outside the country is around 5 million. Many have left their land with the dream of building a less precarious future, as much in central and more developed countries in Europe and North America as in other emerging nations.

Others, alone or accompanied by the family, have tried to escape military recruitment and wars for the maintenance of African colonies. We must not forget that Portugal was the last country to abandon the colonial system. As a result, for several decades it bled the younger generations, it lost as much in the aforementioned fights as in an attempt to escape them.

In recent years, however, particularly with the end of military dictatorship and colonialism on the one hand and the huge investments of the European Union on the other, Portugal has become a country of attraction for a considerable number of migrants. Among the places of origin, the first ones are the former colonies, now Lusophone countries in Africa: Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Guinea.

But a good number of Brazilians, Romanians, Ukrainians and others from various Eastern European countries have also entered Portugal. For some of them, Portugal is a place of passage, a springboard to other countries in Europe and even to the United States.

An Emblematic Case: the Parish of Amora

The vast majority of these migrants are employed in construction, in domestic work or general services such as public and private cleanings, assistance to the elderly and / or the sick, restaurants and hotels, shops and bars, gardeners and so on.

Others venture alone, as freelancers, both in the micro-sales and in the street vending of various types of products. An emblematic example of the presence of foreigners in Portugal: of the 700 children enrolled this year in the catechesis of the Paróquia Bem-aventurado João Batista Scalabrini in Amora, diocese of Setúbal in Lisbon, about half are daughters of migrants or migrants themselves.

The case of a polytechnic school in the city of Bragança, in the north of Portugal, on the border with Spain is also indicated. There we held a meeting with a hundred students and teachers. At present, this school had no less than two thousand students from over 70 different ethnic groups. The students come, among other things, from the Lusophone regions of the African continent, from the countries of Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Alfredo J. Gonçalves, cs