'Exiled' Europeans want voices to be heard
- 15 May 2014
Two men chat about jobs in a little office in Lisbon. Jose Cruz is an unemployed civil engineer. Careers coach Jorge Fonseca is showing him glossy brochures about Angola.
"International companies are starting to look to Africa. There are excellent opportunities there," says Jorge, who runs recruitment agency EMA Partners.
But Jose Cruz has teenaged children in school. He doesn't want to go, but he may have to. With unemployment still above 15% and youth unemployment close to 40%, around 100,000 people a year are leaving Portugal.
The government has been painting emigration as an opportunity for out-of-work Portuguese to learn new skills. At the foreign ministry, Portuguese Communities Minister Jose Cesario says emigration has always been part of the story of Portugal. "We have five million Portuguese all over the world. So that is our culture, our history."
But those kinds of comments have been causing a backlash online among those who have already packed up their bags and left.
"Emigration from Portugal is not a hobby," Rodrigo Rivera tells me. The 27-year-old moved to Brazil in September to work for a gas company.
He is behind a new online campaign ahead of this month's European elections that is picking up support among Portuguese migrants worldwide. It is called Emigramos Mas Nao Desistimos, which means We Have Emigrated, But We Have Not Given Up.
"We want to force the political parties to talk about us," Rodrigo says. "We haven't left Portugal of our own free will. We are political and economic exiles, who suffer under a regime of austerity that has been imposed on us."
Supporters of the campaign have emigrated to everywhere from Brazil and Angola to Cambodia, UEA and Europe. Like Jose Reis and Miguel Franco - both in their early 30s - who I meet outside London's Portuguese Consulate.
"We had our prime minister advising teachers to emigrate," says sociology student Jose Reis. "We have had several government members almost saying to the youth of their country 'go away'. It felt like an insult."
Miguel, who was a science teacher in Portugal and now works in a London restaurant, shows me the campaign's Facebook page. Someone has uploaded a Portuguese song about being forced to work abroad. Another post explains how to vote in the European elections.
"Austerity is destroying the solidarity within Europe," says Miguel. "It is important that message gets across."
Even if politicians listen, though, the wait for a better economic outlook might mean these migrants end up never going back.