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OHCHR Regional Representative visits migrant and Roma inclusion projects in Portugal

On 26 and 27 May, OHCHR Regional Representative for Europe Jan Jařab visited Portugal at the invitation of the outgoing Portuguese High Commissioner for Migrations, Rosário Farmhouse. The main aim of the mission was to make an in-depth evaluation of Portugal's policies concerning migrants and Ciganos (Roma).

On 01 Jun 2014

"I was very impressed by the National Centers for Migrant Support, which serve migrants as a one-stop-shop. Representatives of all the relevant ministries are under one roof, together with civil society activists contracted by the High Commissioner for Migrations," said the Regional Representative after his meeting with High Commissioner Farmhouse. "The sheer range of services, from legal advice to assistance with housing, recognition of diplomas, entrepreneurship or debt resolution, is very remarkable. But what I found most noteworthy was that all these services are offered to both regular and irregular migrants - and that the whole approach to migrant integration is non-coercive. Unlike some other countries, there are no obligatory integration curricula and no negative conditionalities. Instead, the approach focuses on empowering the migrant."

The Regional Representative stressed how important it was for the Government to maintain this approach and continue developing it in the next period, even as the office of the Portuguese High Commissioner for Immigration and Inter-cultural Dialogue was recently renamed to High Commissioner for Migrations and the mandate was broadened.

During his mission, the Regional Representative also visited several field locations outside Lisbon where various migrant inclusion projects, supported by the office of the High Commissioner for Migrations, are under way. In Loures - the site of inter-communal clashes in 2008 - he spoke with local elected authorities as well as with participants in a project financed from the youth-focused program "Choices" at a newly opened community center.

Moreover, the Regional Representative met with representatives of Portuguese autochthonous Cigano (Roma) communities and discussed their difficulties in overcoming stereotypes and prejudices. Bruno Goncalves, Vice President of the civil society organization Letras Nómadas, pointed out that the media continue to present stereotypical images of Ciganos: "Positive news about long-term successful developments gets very little publicity, while negative news - even about trivial incidents - always gets to the headlines."

"Majority society needs to overcome the legacy of extremely profound social exclusion of Roma and paternalistic approaches to them - sometimes even by organizations which seek to improve their situation," observed the Regional Representative. "On the other hand, Cigano NGOs obviously need to build up their capacity. The community needs to address the challenge of harmful traditional attitudes, in particular to gender equality. The traditional approach has long been that of not allowing women to study or work. This means that Cigano women often face double discrimination, as Ciganos and as women within their own community."

The Regional Representative pointed out that the meeting with Cigano mediators and youth activists was very promising, but it is clear that major efforts lie ahead in order to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights by this long-marginalized community. He also saluted the innovative work of High Commissioner Farmhouse's office in this area, in her capacity as Portugal’s National Contact Point for Roma Integration. The Regional Representative offered concrete cooperation on the part of OHCHR, and invited Bruno Goncalves to attend an upcoming policy seminar in Brussels organized by the Regional Office for Europe.