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European migrants search for a better life in former colony


In the past ten years, more than 100 000 Portuguese have migrated to the former colony Angola in the search for a better life. The reversed migration continues, even though many Portuguese struggle to integrate into society, according to new research from the University of Gothenburg.

In the year 2008, Portugal was struck by the financial crisis. Drastic salary cuts, widespread unemployment and profound uncertainty for the future affected the population, and a long-lasting recession broke out. As a result, many Portuguese migrated to the nation’s former colonies in southern Africa, mainly Angola, in the hope of finding work and a stable income.

“Due to rapid economic growth and major investments in infrastructure developments in Angola, this became the final destination for many of the new migrants. This type of labour migration represents a new historic chapter in the relations between Europe and Africa,” says Lisa Åkesson, associate professor in social anthropology.

Lisa Åkesson has studied migration to Angola from a postcolonial perspective, focussing in particular on how the new migrants and their “hosts” relate to one another when working at the same workplaces. She describes the relationship as complex, characterised by both continuity and change in relation to the past.

“Colonial stereotypes and expectations still have a strong hold on how people relate to each other at the workplace. Some Angolans speak of the Portuguese migrants as dominant and arrogant, at the same time as they say, they’re such good teachers, so knowledgeable. Meanwhile, the Portuguese tend to talk about Angolans as ignorant and unskilled, as unwilling to work.”

The Portuguese come to Angola as migrants, which means they must have their legal documents in order. And some of them don’t. Many don’t have work permits or are in the country completely illegally. As a result, the Angolan police are sometimes particularly interested in Europeans.

“They may, for example, be pulled over in traffic stops, as the police know some are illegal, and this is an opportunity to receive bribes. I would say that many Portuguese are a bit scared of Angolan state representatives. And they’re also very dependent on Angolan business owners,” says Lisa Åkesson.

However, Lisa Åkesson’s research also shows that many Angolans want the Portuguese to integrate into society. They want the Portuguese to enjoy living in Angola and to feel like they belong. Some expressed disappointment that the Portuguese tend to keep a distance, out of insecurity, fear, or ignorance.

“It’s 500 years of colonial history, which is something you can’t leave from one day to another. Even if the macro-economic and political situation has changed significantly, the colonial heritage is still apparent in identities and expectations,” says Lisa Åkesson.

Lisa Åkesson presents her research in the book Postcolonial Portuguese Migration to Angola: Migrants or Masters?

Link to digital publishing.

Lisa Åkesson