Adam Labar is vice-president of the Refugees Union in Portugal (União de Refugiados Em Portugal – UREP) and a reggae and afrobeat musician. He’s also director of the international relations department of the World Peace Volunteers, a non-political civil society organization committed to promoting world peace and human rights. The interview with him was conducted by Marisa Torres da Silva, an assistant professor at Nova University of Lisbon (NOVA FCSH). For the New Neighbours project, she also created the Fact Sheet on Media and Migration in Portugal.
How would you characterize Portugal’s position regarding immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, for instance, in terms of support or opposition – from the government, or public opinion?
Portugal has been an example in the field of migratory, refugee and asylum public policy, in which it recently received the United Nations Public Service Award – the most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public services, for the experience of intersectoral governance of the National Centers for Support for Migrant Integration, which operates on the basis of the One-Stop-Shop model, a kind of ‘Citizen Shop’ for migrants. But at the refugee population level, only from December 2015 with the EU Relocation Programme, Portugal began to receive a higher number such as: 6th EU country that most relocated refugees welcomed, it has since received far more refugees than in the past, and also from humanitarian vessels since June 2018 through joint actions with other member states, in addition to spontaneous asylum applications that have grown exponentially since 2017.
In your view, how are refugees and asylum seekers portrayed in Portuguese media? What are the main issues, actors, sources? What is more visible and what is less shown and talked?
Media only shows how well the refugees and asylum seekers are being accepted and treated, and mostly their success at the end, if they will have some things like a degree from a university or an award for doing something great in the name of the country or being part of a bigger course. However, the media will not show that refugees or asylum seekers are leaving Portugal because they wait for long to get decisions from the court, become homeless with no support, not being able to study due to document issues (as undocumented migrants or asylum seekers) or even not being able to pay their rents or take care of their families because many of these refugees and asylum seekers come with their families. Refugees, asylum seekers or these newcomers are being classified as successful and integrated in Portugal, when that is not how it’s seen due to some other issues. At least everyone knows that ‘not every home looks perfect, no matter what decorations it has’.
How does this media portrayal affect the debate around refugees and, more generally, immigration?
It really weakens the hope of our voices and participation out there as we, the people like me who fight for the rights of these refugees and asylum seekers, are calling for help in finding new ideas and means of support, in order to get the rights of all refugees, migrants and asylum seekers – given to them as it should be.
What could be improved in terms of media representation? How could journalists do a better job?
I would say that journalists should start to talk to the refugeed, asylum seekers and migrants directly and not the institutions or corporations that handle their cases. My organization is a refugee lead organization and what we do is to understand the needs of refugees and to collaborate with other institutions responsible for developing effective responses, contributing to a well-defined and successfully implemented strategy. So you can see that these refugees have their own needs and yes, it’s not to overtake the country in which they have gotten shelter but to be able to learn the culture and integrate within the society and have a better and safe life. Same to the country where they are. So media should talk to a refugee and not an institution.
How would you describe UREP’s work in terms of affecting public opinion towards refugees in Portugal and, also, media presence and representation?
UREP keeps doing a great work. Our motto is: Refugees help refugees. We aim to support refugees in exercising their citizenship through intercultural mediation in order to ensure their full integration, providing access to means of social inclusion that dignify them in harmony with legality, believing in unity and interdisciplinary work. We also aim to work with the media in response to these challenges, which require direct monitoring to solve the panoply of social problems that daily barriers pose as obstacles and that require constant solution.