The effort to talk about themselves while using the Portuguese language is evident. Expressing feelings and troubles, the members of the migrant community that were interviewed by Porto. tell how they arrived in Porto, either years ago or just some months ago. The youngest member is 29 years old and the oldest is 63 years old. They are students, psychologists, chemical engineers who have left their homes behind, in such places as Morocco, Colombia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam or the Philippines and they found a new place to call home: Porto. This was the first session of several integration stages of this migrant group of the Associação Seiva.
The Municipality of Porto created the Municipal and Intercultural Mediator project in 2019, in the framework of the Social Inclusion and Employment Operational programme (POISE), in liaison with the High Commissioner for Migration and other non-government organisations and public institutions. Besides migrants, the focus is also on the integration of the Roma communities.
The city of Porto is currently accepting circa seven thousand foreigners, and “the City Hall has been developing a coordinated work in the social network to build up a more inclusive, more equitable and a more cohesive city”, ensures the councillor for Social Cohesion, Fernando Paulo, who advances that “it is essential to promote the interculturality and to ensure the conditions to access culture, education, employment, housing, social support to all persons that choose the city to live”.
During the sessions that take place at the Seiva Association, the focus is on sharing experiences and the creation of support networks. “What we intend to do, as mediators, is to bring to the discussion table issues as women’s health, fundamental rights, equality of opportunities, and how the role of women can be a little different”, explained Paula Ferreira, who works in the Municipal and Intercultural Mediators project through the Jesuit Refugee Service.
The number of Brazilian refugees is still the largest percentage of foreigners in Porto, followed by Nepalese, Pakistani, and Indian. There are also refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Jordan.
The first barrier upon arrival is the bureaucracy, and the language factor is also an obstacle in the legalisation process; thus, mediation plays a key role, in conjunction with the specialised service at the Townsman Office (Gabinete do Munícipe).
The councillor for Social Cohesion and the municipal mediator enhance the importance of the work done alongside the services. “We have to educate people, guide them and inform them, but that work has to be done within the organisations and institutions, as well, so that they are prepared to provide the necessary answers”, affirms Fernando Paulo, while Paula Fernandes recalls a moment when, at the peak of the pandemic she encountered a boy from Nepal that went to the hospital and was not able to understand the hospital diagnosis. I had to go in with him to understand and explain it to him”.
During the peak of the pandemic, migrants that were pursuing their migrant status regularisation were granted extraordinary free access to the Portuguese NHS.
Paula Ferreira says that Porto is a city “that has been highly attentive to the migrant’s needs”. “Whenever there is a specific need, the Municipality is in the frontline to provide support. The Municipal services also join efforts so that people can access the NHS as swiftly as possible”, she added.
A Porto for all. All for Porto
Another significant highlight is the creation of the programme “Porto_4_All”, which is jointly organised with the Associação de Jovens Empresários, the Associação Empresarial de Portugal, or the Instituto de Emprego e Formação Profissional (IEFP) with the main goal of supporting the professional integration of the migrant community in the job market in the city.
The first job recruitment took place in May and it opened new perspectives for Paula Charamba, from Angola, as the process entitles her to getting the necessary certification acquired in her country of origin. Paula is in the city for three years now and is looking for a job in her training area: Human Resources management.
“For me, the future is to stay in Porto”, Paula advances, even though she admits that “the culture is totally different from mine”. She adds that “safety and tranquillity in Porto” are key factors to enjoying the city, where she intends to “help improve the intercultural knowledge between companies”.
The same happens to Mayara Barros, a lawyer from Brazil, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the University of Porto. She attended the workshops at the Cité des Métires (Cidade das Profissões) and acknowledges to having learned important tips in the scope of the Porto_4_All. Project.
And even though there was no language barrier for her, “the truth is that culture here is a bit different”, but the fact that she “had a warm welcome” almost makes up for homesickness. All things considered, Mayara “would like to have a job here. If it is up to me, I would stay in Porto”.
Kevin Pinel thinks the same way. He is French and has been in Porto for the past two years. His Portuguese has improved thanks to two courses he attended at the IEFP. “My focus is to be able to speak Portuguese in a manner that allows me to work in a bookshop”, he explains, adding that “integration was easy” and that the “plan is to clearly stay here. “I like the fact that I came from a big city [he has worked in London for ten years] to a much friendlier place, with a slower pace”, he affirms.
“I am constantly feeling supported. I get emails all the time to do things”, Kevin states and concludes that the only thing that is missing regarding full integration is a job.
The municipal mediator Paula Ferreira states that “Porto realised that the more integrated migrants are, the more inclusive the city will be, and the entire population will benefit from it. The municipal mediator recognises that “this migratory crisis brings a lot of contradictory sentiments, and that sometimes there is some antagonism against migrants. Many of them just want a dignified life, to have a job and that their kids go to school. All the things we also want”, she concludes.
Councillor Fernando Paulo also believes that “we can say that the city is better prepared today to help integrate those arriving in the city, helping them surpass some obstacles. We are talking about human dignity and the need that everyone has to accomplish social and cultural values, to feel well and to be active in the daily life, in building up communities where everyone has a place”.