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In the Fringes of the European Union [Porto, Portugal 2012]
Three Romani families had been living for 6 months in an open area in the center of the northern Portuguese city of Porto in 2012.
Twice discriminated against for being Romani (also known as "Gypsies") and Muslim, this minority group faces even higher levels of xenophobia and sometimes persecution than Christian Romani do in Romania and elsewhere within European boundaries. The three families have been continuous and progressively displaced from one edge of the European Union, in Romania, to the other extreme, in Portugal, seeking refuge from poverty and discrimination.
With ever increasing levels of nationalism and xenophobia in EU countries in between Romania and Portugal, these families were gradually pushed until Portugal where, in spite of facing severe discrimination, social exclusion and of the country's dire economic situation, they say they haven't, so far, experienced direct physical harassment and persecution. However, these families still face extreme poverty, exclusion and discrimination.
According to some of the families' members, Portugal has been in so far, relatively welcoming, or at least not physically threatening, in contrast with other countries. They say police and people around do not hassle them as long as they are not accused of stealing and that they are left to live in peace. The families say however that the community in general and other non-nomadic Romanian immigrants face unjustified suspicion and sometimes harassment under accusations of theft.
However and although starkly below the minimum wage, most members of these families work. They make around 10 euros a day working for the Portuguese Roma community in clothes markets in the region, loading and unloading goods and assisting in other chores. The children do not go to school and are out all day begging for money. A nearby church and it's priest usually provide some help to the families in more difficult occasions.
The families have been in Portugal, in different locations, for six years and sometimes make a five days bus journey from Portugal to visit their families in Romania, at the other edge of Europe.
In Portugal, they barely take shelter from severe winter weather with just tents made of blankets, domestic refuse, canes and plastic bags. Without running water or other basic living facilities, facing extremely cold wet winters and severe exclusion and discrimination, they say that, for the moment, they still feel better off in Portugal than in Romania or other EU countries, away from physical harm.