May Day Lisboa 2018 Immigration

Racism in Portugal? Council of Europe Says Yes, a Bit

For many immigrants and expats coming to Portugal, racism often doesn’t seem as prominent as back home. However, there is still a long way to go.

For many immigrants and expats coming to Portugal from elsewhere, racism often doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue as back home. Those of us who venture into some of the neighborhoods on the periphery, however, start seeing a different picture. And almost all of us have found ourselves in an uncomfortable conversation with a Lisboeta about the country’s Roma people.

May Day Lisboa 2018 Immigration

The Council of Europe concluded much the same: things are better, but they’re far from perfect.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published its latest report on the issue, which commends progress in Portugal regarding LGBT rights and the education of migrants’ children. In particular, it points out the fact that same-sex couples now have access to joint adoption and assisted reproduction and that transgender individuals no longer need medical certificates to get gender recognition or change their first names. Additionally, children of migrant origin are getting better results in school and their drop-out rates, at least at an early age, have fallen, while the government is making moves to legalize the situation of students and parents without residency permits.

ECRI also points out that, unlike many of their European colleagues, Portuguese politicians rarely resort to racist or homophobic comments – and when they do, they’re condemned. Racist violence is also low, with authorities stepping in strongly when it does happen.

So far so good.

But it’s not all rosy. ECRI says it found a lack of trust in Portuguese police among people of African origin, which it says is a result of “grave accusations of racist violence” committed by the cops. There’s also been no systematic investigation of the accusations, according to the report. ECRI points to a 2015 case in which 18 police officers got indicted for torture and other offenses against six Black victims.

ECRI is also critical of how Portugal is dealing with its Roma community: 90% of Roma children, for example, drop out of school at an early age, compared to the 14% national average. A large number of Roma adults, meanwhile, are unemployed, live in poor conditions, and face the threat of eviction — as do people of African descent, according to the report.

ECRI’s 47-page report was met with a 13-page rebuttal from the Portuguese government. The Public Security Police (PSP) “begins by expressing its astonishment and indignation,” in part because apparently during the debriefing it had with the ECRI, “none of the references or recommendations presented were about the performance of PSP.” In addition, the PSP believes that the ECRI “chooses to ignore almost completely” its work in the defense of human rights. The PSP also takes issue with ECRI’s wording when it talks about “police brutality,” which PSP says “expresses a prior moral judgment,” and regrets that the ECRI didn’t listen to testimonies of “the more than 300 other community associations” that choose to work with the PSP. Furthermore, PSP points out that when working with minority communities, “the great majority of complaints made against the PSP’s actions are limited to the work of the Policemen of the Alfragide Police Station and the surrounding Cova da Moura neighborhood.” The PSP also suggests that safety is impossible if there were police brutality:

“With Portugal rated among the 3 or 4 safest countries in the world, PSP believes that it would be impossible to contribute to this sense of tranquility, security and public peace if PSP presented itself as a violent or repressive police.”

The Immigration and Borders Service (SEF), meanwhile, really only takes issue with ECRI’s assessment that a “significant number of children born in Portugal do not have a stable stay permit situation, and their parents or the children themselves are under threat of expulsion.”

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