Broken migrant dreams underpin Portuguese agriculture industry

Beja, Portugal, Mar 20 (efe-epa).- Night has fallen as Saliou returns from work covered in dust after a long day of farm work in the Portuguese region of Alentejo, where his European dream has been shattered by a harsh reality.

He is one of thousands of migrants who have made it to largely rural Alentejo, where they are paid three to five euro an hour to work for six days a week, unless they are sick or it rains. If so, they do not get paid.

Saliou, 32, has covered thousands of kilometers in search of a brighter future; as he embarked on a journey that took him from his native Senegal to Libya, Italy and Spain, eventually ending up in Alentejo’s capital, Beja, a year ago.

“The boss does not respect people. There is a lot of exploitation, a lot of problems,” he says. Even so, he says he would not return to Senegal, where he studies law.

Nearby lives Talla, a 40-year-old who left her three children back in Senegal to share a house without electricity or hot water in Beja. On paper, she is paid the Portuguese minimum wage of 665 euros, but in reality she never makes that amount.

Like Talla, most immigrants work with intermediaries who, upon payment, take care of transportation in old vans that multiply in the streets of Beja-, accommodation — between 100 and 150 euros of rent per person and month — and a potential contract.

Immigrants choose Portugal because “it is a calmer country” where the laws allow them to legalize with an employment contract or registration with Social Security despite the fact that they earn less than minimum wage, Alberto Matos, of the Solidariedade Imigrante (SOLIM) NGO says.

But Portugal is not their final destination. The “promised land”, so to speak, are wealthy countries farther north like France and Germany.

The migrants have to deal with intermediaries, many who came from Eastern Europe as day laborers a decade ago and now organize Africans and Asians, Matos explains.

They charge for finding accommodation and transportation for newcomers. Sometimes they also take care of making the contracts, although irregularities multiply and wages decrease, he adds.

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