Large numbers of Ukrainian refugees have crossed borders to escape the horrors of war over the past month. But as things stand, they may simply be fleeing one violent situation for another: exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous employers and harsh police.
The UK public has rightly criticized the UK government’s slow and poor actions in settling Ukrainian refugees, but many other European countries have been busy accommodating the exponentially growing number of people fleeing the country. . Poland, where more than two million people have crossed the land border, has seen thousands of families offering to host Ukrainians in their homes. Germany began to open reception centers and immediately granted the right to work to adults and access to education to children. And France, Spain and Italy expect to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees in the coming weeks.
In Portugal, Prime Minister António Costa guaranteed Ukrainians seeking refuge immediate settlement and integration into Portuguese society by providing temporary protection measures to guarantee the right to work and access to social services. It is not unprecedented. Portugal has recently been singled out by institutions such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Commission for its offer of “exemplary refugee policies over the years” and for “pave the way for the reception of refugees”. It won international acclaim in 2020 for temporarily regularizing large numbers of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to improve to access [to] national health service, social services and labor. In response to the current Ukrainian refugee crisis, Costa affirmed its commitment to welcoming refugees to Portugal with “dignified conditions… [and] concrete opportunities to work »even launching an official government platform allowing Portuguese employers to specifically hire Ukrainian citizens.
However, the experiences of Ukrainians – and other migrants – in Portugal have led to questions about the validity of the rosy image painted by the country’s government and international bodies.
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Ukrainians arriving in Portugal will not be pioneers. A large Ukrainian community already exists in the country, established over the past two decades, with numbers peaking in the late 2000s when Ukrainians were the country’s second largest migrant population. At that time, Ukrainian immigrants were outnumbered only by Brazilian residents.
After the Russian invasion began in late February, Costa emphasized the “very positive experience of the extraordinary Ukrainian community that has lived in the country for almost 20 yearsas the main reason for providing strong support to refugees. Newcomers would have a ready-made community and support network and, in some cases, could be reunited with family members from whom they had been separated by pre-war migration as well as the current conflict.
Many Ukrainians have settled comfortably throughout Portugal over the years. They have kept their culture alive through the establishment of several additional Ukrainian schools for children and more than a dozen Ukrainian folk dance associations, as well as other educational and cultural programs. However, they typically work in the construction and domestic service sectors, in labor-intensive and socially undervalued jobs, with relatively low incomes.
Abuse and exploitation
There have been many stories of abuse, exploitation and trafficking of Ukrainian workers in the Portuguese labor market, and they have experienced working conditions that are just as poor as those of other minority groups in the country, including the Chinese, Brazilians, Africans, Roma and other Eastern European countries. immigrants. The disturbing realities of migrant labor in Portugal have recently been reported in the UK media, with the Guardian publishes an article which showcased the exploitative conditions and police assaults faced by Nepalese and other South Asian migrants working as farm labourers.
Many Ukrainians enter the Portuguese labor market through the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Newcomers are likely to experience the same conditions of overcrowded, dilapidated housing and state violence as documented by other migrant farmworkers.
The mistreatment of Ukrainian migrants in Portugal was highlighted in 2020 following reports of the death of Ihor Homeniuk, a Ukrainian citizen, who was kicked and asphyxiated in a detention center at Lisbon airport by officers from the Immigration and Borders Service. In recent years, African and Brazilian migrants have also raised serious allegations of verbal and physical abuse by border police. The death of Ihor Homeniuk and the broader picture it paints of the use of state violence in Portugal was included in an annual report published by Amnesty International on the state of human rights in the world as an example ofshortcomings in the protection of persons during border procedures”.