The Divorce Between Official Discourses and Reality

Today, celebrations take place under the motto of the International Day of Migrants. At a time when we are approaching the end of the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue and when much has been said about the importance and progress in the field of integration policies, we cannot fail to point out the precarious situation in which many thousands of immigrants in Portugal, namely @s “indocumentad@s”, and for the institutionalized disrespect for Human Rights, increasingly evident in European anti-immigration policies.

The revolt and determination of thousands of immigrants who took to the streets in Lisbon on the 12th of October are still very much alive: last Sunday, the 14th of December, hundreds of immigrants filled the CNAI Auditorium with a wedge, in a well-attended Plenary, responding to the call of the Association SOLIDAREDADE IMIGRANTE. Reasons for this discontent are not lacking and go beyond their own borders.
IN EUROPE , there are worrying civilizational setbacks in terms of Human Rights, before which we cannot remain indifferent. The approval of the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, the Sarkozy Pact , represents the strengthening of the repressive aspect of border control and the criminalization of immigration. The Pact also formalizes a practice that has been adopted by most European countries: it prohibits regularization processes in EU member states, sending the approximately 8 million undocumented people who live and work in Europe underground.


The Shame Directive , which, despite having been strongly contested and repudiated by broad sectors of civil society, was formally approved, with the favorable vote of the Portuguese government, on the eve of the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, represents a giant step towards the criminalization and expulsion of the undocumented. This is bad news not only for immigrants but also for Europeans, due to the deep civilizational setback it represents.
With the crisis, it is said that it is necessary to protect national jobs. But keeping these immigrants in hiding has two practical results: it feeds pockets of unprotected workers in the face of labor exploitation and it feeds social exclusion. Furthermore, the position of wanting to expel those without whom it would have been impossible to maintain the levels of growth seen in European economies in recent decades is an atrocious hypocrisy. In practice, it is about “use and throw away”.
IN PORTUGAL , the divorce between official propaganda and reality is becoming increasingly evident. The Immigration Law – in force since July last year – leaves thousands of people outside of their fair regularization and increases the discretionary power of the Aliens and Borders Service (SEF). Here are some of the more glaring problems:
  1. The law creates a vicious cycle – work is necessary to have the right to residency, but residency is needed to work – which leaves migrants in an alley that is difficult to get out of, makes their situation precarious and fuels “false contracts”.
  2. The mechanisms for the regularization of undocumented persons who live and work in this country (Articles 88 and 89) are of an unofficial nature and are defined in the Law as exceptional, which reinforces the discretionary powers of the SEF and the Government.
  3. It is practically impossible for a foreigner@ to obtain a visa to work in Portugal, before coming here , as it is necessary to previously present an employment contract, or, at the very least, an “individualized expression of interest by the employer”, in addition to the extreme difficulty and delay in the entire process. Now, which employer will offer employment to an immigrant before @ meeting him? The current system does not actually promote the much-vaunted “legal immigration”.
  4. Quota policies were once again a failure . To make matters worse, the Government is counting the regularization of the undocumented who already live and work here for the quotas, as if it were new entrances to the labor market.
  5. With the definition of minimum income, the right to family reunification has been more and more limited and inadequate to the reality of the national average salary.

In their relationship with the Portuguese State, non-regularized immigrants see that there are two clearly different weights and measures, depending on whether it is a matter of fulfilling duties or having their rights recognised. For example, Social Security and Finance receive contributions from those who do not have a regularized document situation, but if @ immigrant is dismissed from work, his right to receive unemployment benefit is denied, alleging the lack of a Visa or Authorization of Residence. The same applies to maternity leave and any other type of social protection.

On 18 December – International Migrant Day – 2008, the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue, the year that also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we claim what should be the true meaning of these ephemeris, we claim rights and dignified treatment for all people, regardless of where they were born.

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