Tourism pushes migrants in Lisbon to the outskirts
Migrants in Portugal, especially undocumented migrants, are among those affected by the tourism and gentrification boom. A Portuguese photographer has documented their plight in Lisbon as they are forced to move to abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the capital.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, was one of the booming cities of the global tourism industry. Between 2006 and 2019, the number of tourist arrivals in the European country practically doubled.
While tourism has been one of the key industries that has helped boost Portugal’s recent economic growth, it has also had a negative impact on poorer residents and immigrants, who often have low-paying jobs.
Since tourists started arriving in droves, entire neighborhoods with thousands of houses have been rehabilitated and turned into vacation apartments, forcing many to leave because they could no longer pay the rent. For many, the only viable option left is slum-type housing on the outskirts of the city.
Portuguese photographer Gonc̜alo Fonseca documented their plight. His ‘New Lisbon’ photo series, for which he recently won the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnack Prize, shows people who have had to leave their apartments, become homeless or have been driven to the outskirts as a result of real estate speculation and gentrification.
Portugal’s colonial past
The Portuguese Empire, which spread across the world and lasted almost six centuries, included several colonies in Africa: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea.
Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in the 1970s after long and bitter counterinsurgency conflicts from the 1960s to the mid-1970s.
Today, some of the biggest real estate investors in Lisbon are wealthy Angolans. At the same time, immigrants from the former colonies are among those particularly affected by the restructuring of the city.
Many poorer migrants were driven from the city center to the outskirts a long time ago to places like the Bairro da Torre (“tower quarter”), which has become a place of arrival and refuge for people. who emigrated to Portugal from its former colonies.
“Four years without electricity,” Ricardina Cuthbert, from the Atlantic island of São Tomé and Príncipe, told German public broadcaster. ARD. “It’s the fight for life. What is a house? It’s the life inside.”
The scourge of Airbnb
Foreign investors have also shown interest in Cuthberth’s house, but the migrant says she won’t budge. “They won’t get me out of here. It’s a poor house, but it’s mine.”
Photographer Fonseca attributes the massive increase in rental prices to the Airbnb industry in part. Despite its small population of just over ten million, Portugal is the tenth largest Airbnb market in the world with around 3.4 million Airbnb tourists in 2018.
A 2018 study estimated that one in three properties in central Lisbon was vacation rental, pushing locals to the outskirts as rental prices soared 9.3% that year.
“Many of those who could no longer afford rent became squatters,” Fonseca said. ARD. “I don’t want their stories to be forgotten, or to disappear in the dark behind the facades.”
The fate of undocumented workers
In a gesture that pleased pro-migrant organizations, the Portuguese government decided at the end of March to temporarily treat all foreigners, awaiting processing of their asylum, residence or work permit applications, as permanent residents. .
However, this measure has not helped everyone. Similar to neighboring Spain, where a recent fire in an abandoned warehouse near Barcelona left four African migrants dead, Portugal faces a huge problem of undocumented migrants.
“Tens of thousands” of undocumented workers, including migrants, could fall through the cracks. Unable to access social assistance, due to their lack of a legal employment contract, these people are sinking deeper into poverty as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt.
It is not known how many people had pending residency applications, but government statistics show that a record 580,000 immigrants resided in Portugal in 2019, with 135,000 people being granted residency last year.
According to Financial Times, Portugal’s immigrant population has more than doubled over the past 20 years. Official data shows that Brazilians constitute the majority of immigrants living in Portugal, followed by Romanians, Ukrainians, British and Chinese.
Discussions on EU asylum policy
Earlier this month, Portugal began talks with other EU member states over the bloc’s proposed asylum and migration pact. According to the Portuguese Interior Ministry, the goal is to find common ground and overcome differences.
The talks will be part of Portugal’s six-month rotating EU presidency, which the country took over from Germany in January.
Discussions on the Asylum and Migration Pact began in September and have already hit several sticking points. Most Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece require other Member States to take in some of the people who arrive in particularly high numbers.
Yet other EU countries like Poland and Hungary categorically reject any personal obligation to accept migrants. Still, Portuguese Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita said he would organize meetings with reluctant countries.
“Flexible” but “compulsory” solidarity between EU countries is the key concept for Portugal, according to the minister. Solutions must be found to two main problems: regular migratory flows and migratory crises, he added.
However, Cabrita said it is still unclear what this solidarity will look like. It remains to be seen if and how the bloc will be able to find that elusive consensus for a common European migration policy.
With dpa, Reuters, AP, ARD