The population census in Portugal that took place in 2021 took some of us, myself included, door to door. A Lisbon profoundly different from that of 2011: where there were houses, now there are local accommodation, hotels, unclassified or existing buildings then, the effects of the pandemic in a parish, like Arroios, flooded with unsupervised accommodation without any respect for even the meager municipal rules and absolutely abandoned by the entities responsible for guaranteeing decent housing: the State, central or local, and the sacrosanct Santa Casa da Misericórdia.
It was not necessary to walk more than one street next to the Parish Council of Arroios to find buildings built and licensed for a large number of inhabitants and irregularly adapted to the evident overcrowding: where, for example, 60 people should live, 200 can easily be found with rooms on plywood to “split” a fraction into three or four.
In a single street, ex-combatants living on pensions of around 200 euros in houses in the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, alone and without families, in rotten houses, with no access for people with disabilities, bedridden without help, elderly people trapped in third parties floors for not being able to go down stairs, doors that did not open because – right there in the Santa Casa buildings – there were people exploited in prostitution.
In the building opposite, they answered, but they asked for help because the SEF did not respond and, once again, they went to the fields in Odemira.
To the side, rehabilitated, empty buildings.
The number of stores with a warehouse with mattresses, where the hustle and bustle of workers who are here today and not tomorrow live, with the lawyers’ office next door, “specialist in immigration”. Pensions that housed, paid for by the State and overcrowded, asylum seekers who did not speak Portuguese, did not know of any pandemic, did not even have masks, living in inhumane conditions.
One would expect that none of this would happen – but after all it was and is the Portuguese Council for Refugees (CPR) which chooses pensions and pays them. You know the Ministry of Internal Administration, Santa Casa, the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality, the High Commission for Migration, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
In truth, the Parish Council of Arroios, in its previous mandate, together with the Municipal Civil Protection and the Lisbon Sapadores Firefighters, took matters into their own hands and knocked on doors, delivered medicines, food adjusted to the religion and filled the mailboxes of newspapers, ministries, Lisbon City Council, CPR.
The response was null and the new board executive, on February 15 – with Rua de Arroios next door – says “can’t do anything”. In the midst of a pandemic, it was possible to make leaflets in several languages, distribute protective equipment and medication, meet people and distribute weekly food baskets that respect the diet and religion of refugees and asylum seekers, such as the AURA program (Urgent Support for Asylum). But now what moved the new president of the Parish Assembly of Arroios was not the urgent humanitarian response – it was the invoices of everyone who responded to the appeals for solidarity and offered shoes, clothes, food. In fact, the Arroios Parish Assembly did not make a single donation. The fact that people were living in subhuman conditions didn’t seem to really bother anyone with the power to change things.
Until one day on Carlos Mardel street there is a fire and people die. But not enough died for the state of alert. Suddenly he arrived in Mouraria. We can’t let anyone die ex libris of tourism. About this, Carlos Moedas does not accept lessons. He only says “whoever has a contract enters”. And who are these?
Is it really a problem of the law, when a president of the Bar Association, faced with a case of labor exploitation, came to the defense of owners of wooden shacks?
Is it a problem of the law that the CPR is the only entity authorized to manage the processes of refugees and asylum seekers and nobody knows how much they receive, how much they pay and why they insist on paying pensions without the minimum of conditions?
Will it be a problem with the law that we continue to receive digital nomads and lose track of – only – around 1500 asylum seekers, continue to deny visas to refugees and sell the golden city to a president who is from the party family that won the parish with the largest number of nationalities – 92 – and where there are very serious problems of housing and homelessness?
There are no moral lessons here – there is a serious human rights problem, which all institutions are aware of. How many more have to die, become homeless or live on the street?
The author writes according to the new spelling agreement