Portuguese head to former colonies to escape Euro crisis


MAPUTO, Mozambique

When Marcio Charata lost his well-paying job in southern Portugal two years ago, he fired off resumes to all his contacts. Determined to survive the economic woes strangling Europe, he secured 20 interviews — but no job. So he set his sights on a faraway and unlikely market: Mozambique, Portugal's once war-torn former colony.

Today, Charata is a senior executive at a Mozambican media company, joining thousands of his fellow Portuguese who have arrived here in recent months seeking refuge from the euro crisis. "This is an oasis in the desert," Charata, 33, said with a smile.

Faced with mounting unemployment, rising taxes and cuts to social welfare programs, many Portuguese are traveling to former colonies in search of work, to the very places their colonial ancestors were forced to leave more than a half-century ago — countries such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, which boast some of the world's fastest-growing economies, fueled by vast deposits of oil, minerals and other raw materials.

Sub-Saharan Africa, to be sure, is no economic promised land. Much of the continent still struggles with high poverty, disease and unemployment, and businesses face major hurdles, including corruption and red tape.

But the Portuguese arrivals are an indication that the continent is on the move economically. The middle class is growing in many African countries, as are large infrastructure projects. Foreign investors are scouring the region for opportunities, while trade with China is expanding. The World Bank predicts that one-third of all African countries' growth rates will top 6 percent this year, with many nations' economies swelling more rapidly than the East Asian tiger economies.

From 2009 to 2011, the number of Portuguese who registered with their embassy in Maputo increased about 21 percent to nearly 19,000, and the embassy estimates that more than 23,000 Portuguese live in the regions of Maputo and Beira, Mozambique's second largest city. Many new arrivals are highly skilled professionals, including architects, engineers and doctors.

The number of Portuguese companies expressing interest in investing in this southern African country has more than doubled this year, from 10 visiting delegations last year to 22 this year, according to the Mozambique-Portugal Chamber of Commerce.

Across this capital city, restaurants and cafes are filled with recent Portuguese immigrants. Portugal's national airline has increased flights to Maputo from once to three times a week.

"Everyone is feeling the pinch of the economic crisis, and Mozambique offers a lot of opportunities," said Goncalo Teles Gomes, Portugal's consul general in Maputo.

"People think this is El Dorado," he added, referring to the legendary "lost city of gold" that has captivated explorers for centuries.

Portugal ruled Mozambique from the 16th century onward, breeding what would become a shameful colonial legacy, including the forcing into slavery of thousands of locals. In 1964, fighting erupted between liberation fighters and the colonial authority, eventually leading to Mozambique's independence in 1975.

Subsequently, most Portuguese fled in fear or were expelled by the new government, leaving the country in economic disarray. A 15-year civil war followed, killing nearly a million people before a peace deal was signed in 1992.

The turbulent history between Mozambique and its former colonial master is not lost on many of the new Portuguese arrivals. "I'm not proud of what my ancestors did," said Charata, who arrived here 11 months ago. "This is an ironic situation. We're trying to make a second life in the very country that we were expelled from."

Mozambique's gross domestic product has grown at an average of 7.2 percent over the past decade, even though the country remains one of the world's poorest and most underdeveloped. With new discoveries of coal and natural gas, the country could become a major exporter of minerals over the next decade. Many new Portuguese arrivals are heading to the coal-rich town of Tete in the northwest in search of work.

Giant yellow construction cranes soar into the sky in Maputo, where a building boom is underway to feed the appetite of its growing middle class.

That's why construction worker Manuel Silva, 37, arrived here two months ago. In Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, building activity had come to a halt. So when a Portuguese company offered him a contract, first in Angola, then in Mozambique, he readily accepted. In Maputo, he earns 50 percent more than he made in Lisbon. And his salary gets paid in Portugal.

"My family needs money. We have four kids to feed," Silva said.

Urban planner Ana Martins, 31, left her Portuguese government job last year because she was worried that the euro crisis would bring more austerity measures. In Maputo, she is the director of a Portuguese architectural consulting firm, earning three times what she made in Lisbon, with an apartment, car and other perks. Every week, she said, she receives e-mails from Portuguese seeking work in Mozambique.

In January, her husband plans to move here, as well. He is a doctor, and he said the medical industry in Mozambique is growing, with more hospitals and clinics seeking trained professionals. "In Portugal, we have no future to grow our careers," Martins said.

Among Mozambicans, reaction toward the Portuguese influx is mixed. Some say the immigrants bring much needed expertise in construction, technology, banking and industry to this rapidly growing nation.

"They are an advantage, not a disadvantage," said Andre Massina, 27, a Mozambican engineer who works with foreign companies. "They are coming here to create something new. They are creating jobs here."

But others see the wave of arrivals as a form of neo-colonialism. In interviews, Mozambican construction workers expressed resentment at the higher wages paid to workers from Portugal for doing the same work. "They use us and they insult us. They don't treat us very well," said Paolo Domingos, 21, a Mozambican construction worker. "I prefer they go home and never come back."

It's still not easy for Portuguese to find work in Mozambique. For every foreign worker employed by a local company, several locals have to be hired by law. Foreigners must navigate a slow-moving developing-world bureaucracy, in which it can take months to get work documents.

And for every Portuguese who finds work, others have little success. Under pressure because of the crisis at home, they arrive with unrealistic expectations of quickly finding a job. In Maputo, where rents are soaring and most goods are pricier than in Portugal, the immigrants' money quickly runs out — and they are forced to fly back home.

"They come with lots of financial problems, with little money and much hope," said Nuno Pestana, owner of Taverna, a well-known Portuguese restaurant. "Then the money runs out, and so does the hope."

Many Portuguese companies also find it difficult to gain a foothold in Mozambique. "You have to invest a lot of money, and it could take years to succeed," said Ema Soares, executive director of the Mozambique-Portugal Chamber of Commerce.

Still, 400 Portuguese companies have registered to meet her team at a Lisbon trade fair this month to explore investment opportunities in Mozambique, a 25 percent increase from last year. "They all want to escape the crisis," she said.

Charata understands. Most of his friends back home are jobless and worried about the day their unemployment benefits run out. He said he has made a big effort to blend into Mozambican society. Although he earns less than half of what he made in Portugal, he has no plans to leave in the near future.

"The worst scenario is to go back to Portugal," Charata said. "For the next five or 10 years, it will be hard to have a good life there."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor