FECL 10 (November 1992):


Immigrants residing illegally in Portugal - among them some 80'000 low wage workers from the former African colonies - are granted a period of four months for regularizing their status of residence. The amnesty law comes in the context of the Schengen agreement. It might also contribute to better integration of black people into the Portuguese society.

In the framework of a law which came into force on Oktober 13, 1992, non-EC immigrants who have stayed in the country for more than six months and earn their living are granted residence permit. This non-recurring action is to benefit above all the ten thousands of Africans immigrated from Portugal's former colonies. Most of them live under miserable conditions.

The measure is related to the planned introduction of the free movement of persons within the EC and the accompanying enforcement of more restrictive entry controls at the external common borders of the Community, as well as closer police cooperation among the EC member states provided for by the Schengen Agreement.


Cheap labor from former colonies

Nobody knows exactly how many illegal immigrants live in Portugal, but both the government and foreigners associations estimate their number at about 100'000. The by far largest number comes from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa which gained independence after the the downfall of the fascist dictatorship in Portugal in 1974. The new law constitutes a de facto amnesty for this group. Because of Portugal's close relations with its five former colonies it provides for a privileged treatment of applications made by nationals of the above countries: Anybody having entered into the country before mid 1986 can legalize his residence status without a producing a work certificate. According to to the African immigrants organizations, this is the hitch to the regulation. They point out that most of the Africans came to Portugal after the big construction boom in the late 1980's. As most of them work as clandestines they lack the necessary certificates enabling them to prove an income.

Most of the illegal African immigrants live in downright slums located mostly on the fringe of Lisbon.As they are officially inexistent they have no right to public assistance or support by the the social services and lack accident and health insurances. As most of the male immigrants work in the construction industry, where industrial accidents are frequent, this is a particularly weighty problem.

Obviously, the government has previously tolerated, if not encouraged the presence of illegal African workforce. In Couva de Moura for instance, one of the immigrant slums built illegally on private ground by squatters the local authorities installed water supplies and a system of canalisation. Obviously, they are well aware that Lisbon and its suburbs lack ten thousands of appartments. Most of the men in Couva work in the construction sector, while women work as scrubwomen.

Many Africans seem to be frightened by the prospect of announcing themselves to the authorities as provided for by the law. Tragic stories of deportations resulting in the separation of families are circulating in the slums.


Blacks as a marginal group

In an introduction to the "amnesty" law the government stresses that the reigning situation constitutes an affront against the rule of law, not least because of the thereby increased marginalization of the social group concerned. The government must however be well aware of the fact that the country's flourishing construction industry would have been hopelessly lost without the cheap illegal workforce of the Africans.

The latter have gradually taken the place of those Portuguese seeking for better payed work in other European countries. Recently however, the border police have begun to intensify surveillance of the coast and the ports in compliance with the EC's external border control regulations.

In the opinion of the immigrant organizations the "amnesty" law is no more than a first step towards the legal and social integration mentioned by the government. They call for an improvment of the access of disadvantaged groups to education and for the right of all foreigners to vote on a local level. They have also expressed concern that, in absence of true efforts towards integration, the first signs of an economical crisis would inevitably lead to the outburst of social tension and racism.


Source: Paraphrased from Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16.10.92