There are now believed to be 260,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe in Portugal, half of these illegal. Joined together in an association, they are requesting the Portuguese government to make changes to the laws.
Alex and Olga are typical examples of the new wave of immigration from eastern Europe into Portugal. After paying 1,000 USD in their native Russia, Alex, an environmental engineer and Olga, a lawyer, came to work in Lisbon. He, as a driver and she as a cleaner, earning together around 900 USD, after working overtime.
Alex explained that they share a rented house with two other Russian couples, each contributing 90 USD and the same for food and expenses. This means monthly savings of around 700 USD. For Alex and Olga, life is rosy. However, the story is not always the same.
Svetlana, from the Ukraine, is a prostitute. A medical student at home, she was lured by starry stories of instant wealth. She told Pravda.Ru that her story became a nightmare soon after leaving Dnepropetrovsk. Ostensibly coming to work in a bar, talking to clients and instigating them to consume drinks, Svetlana was one of the unlucky ones. The bar was closed by the authorities because it did not have a license and she was told that if she did not pay back her fare and “fee”, she would be killed, along with her family back home.
Now she is working as a street prostitute to earn the money but she says this has already been paid several times and she can see no end to the cycle. She has learnt the hard way that not all that glitters is gold.
The largest community is indeed the Ukrainians, followed by Moldovans, who soon find that their native tongue is very similar to Portuguese and adapt themselves very easily. There are less Russians, and these immigrants are usually from the professional classes.
On Sunday, the Commercial Association of Lisbon was packed by thousands of these immigrants, who begin to organise themselves in order to protect people like Svetlana. The Portuguese Trade Unions have decided to take up the cause and the Portuguese Communist Party is active in giving support to these workers, who declare their amazement at seeing the hammer and sickle painted on so many walls in Lisbon. 10% of the Portuguese are Communists.
The Council of Trade Unions in Lisbon (CTUL) declared that there are 132,000 of these immigrants legalised, with a further 132,000 working illegally. Those who applied for work permits after 1st December will almost certainly not receive them, since Portugal has large numbers of immigrants from its former colonies (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor, and from Brazil).
The Eastern European workers have an extremely good reputation as being intelligent, hard workers who never cause any trouble. For this reason, the CTUL has requested the Portuguese government to alter the laws so as to concede the work permits, protecting those working without contracts. They also request that employers who do not give work contracts should be imprisoned and that the General Inspection of Work should act more rigorously.
Portugal was once the golden destination for immigrants from the East but today, the rainbow has gone from the sky. The doors are closing…try elsewhere.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL