FECL 14 (April 1993):


According to the new foreigner law, any foreigner seized without a valid residence permit shall be deported by merely administrative decision of the immigration office, respectively the Interior ministry, within 48 hours. If the person concerned succeeds in appealing to a judge he/she will be detained for up to 40 days pending a decision. The law entered into effect on 8 March. The final date for illegal immigrants from non-European countries to apply for residence in the framework of an amnesty decree expired on 5 March.

According to the new foreigner law entry is granted only to persons who have a valid employment contract, accommodation, complete travel documents, 30'000 escudos in cash and, if the persons claims to be a tourist, 6000 escudos per day of the planned stay. Anyone who brings an illegal alien into the country, or accomodates or employs such a person can be fined with up to several million escudos. [Organised smuggling of immigrants can be punished with up to 8 years imprisonment.]

Particular detention camps are to be set up for deportees. It seems however, that, for the time being, only one such camp is operating at Lissabon-Portela airport.

[With the new law, Portugal is bowing to pressure from the EC and, in particular the Schengen-countries who fear that with the abolition of internal border controls, non-EC citizens will poor into the Community via Portugal, because of the country's so far liberal immigration policy towards its former colonies.]

The new policy has already led to a human tragedy for tens of thousands of immigrants in Portugal. While ever more refugees from war-torn Angola, a former Portuguese colony, are arriving almost daily at Lissabon's airport, ten thousands of immigrants from former colonies in Brazil, Asia and Africa who have resided in the country for years are permanently exposed to the threat of internment and deportation.

That the introduction of the freedom of movement of persons within the European Common Market and the Schengen treaty would pose enormous problems to Portugal in particular, was foreseeable since long ago.

Despite its image as the "poorhouse of the old continent" Portugal traditionally was used as a first haven by the inhabitants of its former colonies in search of a better life, not least, because Portugal, besides common language and culture, offered them certain privileges, inexistent in other European states, regarding entry and naturalisation.

In line with the Spanish model, the Portuguese government decreed an amnesty a year ago. The decree set a transitional period for immigrants from the above former colonies within which they should regulate their status of residence.

Vehement protest from Brazil however delayed the enactment of such measures until last autumn. [Indeed, Brazil introduced retaliatory measures against Portuguese nationals on the grounds of a 1972 agreement with Portugal which grants privileged reciprocal conditions of entry and naturalisation to nationals of the two countries. Brasil is a traditional country of emigration for Portuguese, and there are some 10'000 Brazilians in Portugal without residence permit.

For the time being, the conflict has calmed down a bit, since both countries ordered their airlines to take on board only pasengers in possession of all necessary documents. Brazil further introduced a new law on 3 february 1993 under which Portuguese wishing to emigrate to Brazil will require proof of higher education and employment there. It is also believed that officials of the foreign ministries of Brazil and Portugal are no longer excluding the possibility of mutually introducing entry visas for the nationals of the other country.]

Despite the amnesty, authorities and relief organisations still estimate the number of illegal residents in Portugal at about 150'000 persons. Up till now, only 20% of them have reported for registration. Ignorance, lack of documents and fear of deportation have prevented many from taking this step.. As a matter of fact the amnesty decree threatens anyone unable to comply with the requirements set with deportation. Applicants for residence must prove that they have permanent accommodation, regular employment or another regular income and a clean criminal record.

These requirements to not fit with reality of life in the slums of Lissabon or Setubal and are resented as unsurmountable barriers by the concerned.

The scope of the tragedy became apparent only short before the expiration of the amnesty and has lead to public turmoil in Portugal.

Once again, the Portuguese are confronted with the question of conscience whether they are more closely connected to their own history or to the "monster of Brussels". "Where do we come from, and where do we want to go?", a leading daily entitled its polemic comment. "Until recently we were the last European country with hunger and illiteracy. Now we shall become the first too in very officially introducing concentration camps".

Alexander Gschwind, Madrid


(Completed with information from Migration Newssheet, No.120/93-03 and Berliner Zeitung, 10.3.93)