Madeira: An island of refuge for Venezuelans of Portuguese origin

Venezuelans on the island of Madeira demonstrate for Portugal to talk to the government in Caracas. [@EFE/Archives]

No one knows the exact figure but the authorities in Madeira consider that about 6,000 Venezuelans of Portuguese descent have taken refuge on their island, where they found themselves in an extremely precarious situation. EURACTIV’S partner Euroefe reports.

“They arrive with nothing, many are sick, these are people lacking a great deal,” said the President of the Portuguese archipelago, Miguel Albuquerque.

These people are second or third generation Portuguese, descendants of those who left Madeira decades ago in search of a better life in Venezuela. They are now making the opposite journey.

Aura Rodriguez, a representative of the Venexos organisation which helps these people to integrate on the island, explained to Efe that it was hard to say how people had arrived so far because some of them enter Europe via Madrid.

“Many people, when they arrive here, have already been registered in Europe, in Madrid. That’s why they aren’t identified in Madeira,” she stated.

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On their ancestors’ island, “they have access to social security and are supported with their education,” the president said. He noted that of those who were already registered with the regional health system “many have serious diseases, such as cancer or cardiovascular diseases.”

They also receive support from the employment office, an entity through which “we have already put almost 3,000 people” but which now “is a housing problem,” he added. The island of Madeira has a population of 262,000.

Humanitarian and social organisations, such as Venexos, are trying to help these people, “even though the greatest burden rests on the government, which supports and will continue to support these people who are citizens,” emphasised Albuquerque.

When it comes to integration, there have been “no problems or conflicts, it’s going well,” the president assured. He added that people arriving in Madeira from Venezuela “have a great capacity for work.”

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The arrival of these Venezuelans entails an additional cost for the regional government, which, as the representative from Venexos acknowledged, “gave great attention to it” and “made every effort to help them” despite not receiving any support itself.

“As far as I know, they did not receive the support promised by the EU […] there were a lot of promises but nothing,” Rodriguez regretted.

People are arriving in Madeira “because they have parents from Madeira or a potential family background there, but it’s not always the best-case scenario,” she said, using the example of stories of people who had hoped to find housing or land but find themselves in impossible living conditions.

“We guide them, we try to register them with social security. It’s compulsory for children, the state is obliged to look after them free of charge,” she explained.

The most difficult groups to integrate

The president said that the biggest problems were sick people arriving, and particularly the elderly, who have never made contributions in Portugal, which complicates matters when it comes to receiving support.

Without itself receiving support or having revenue, Venexos helps these people by giving them medicines which the organisation cannot send to Venezuela as they have passed their expiry date.

“It’s a standard we have to meet, we can’t send expired medicines but we know that, clinically, they aren’t outdated, so we offer them to people here,” while also informing them of the expiry date, she explained.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, those who remained in Venezuela were living in even worse conditions, said Rodriguez.

“We know that descendants of Portuguese people in Venezuela lack food and treatment,” she stated. “We gather medicines and food, but what we’re missing is money to send to them.”

The good news is that when these packages arrive, “we receive videos and photos from the recipients or the business delivering them and this validates all of our work,” she concluded.

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