Pétur Waldorff. Photo: Maria Ellisson.

Immigration and the oil boost

Last autumn, the Angolan economy was thriving, boosted by the country’s oil exports. Now, just a few months later, oil prices have plunged dramatically, changing the opportunities on the labour market.

“Oil production has had an immense effect on the Angolan economy. Now projects are being halted because there is no money due to the fall in oil prices,” says NAI researcher Pétur Waldorff, currently on his way back to Luanda. He and fellow NAI researcher Lisa Åkesson are to continue their study on labour migration from Portugal to Angola.

The flow of labour from Portugal to its ex-colony Angola has been going on since the Portuguese economy began to falter. One measure of today´s migration is that remittances from Angola to Portugal are 21 times larger than remittances in the opposite direction.

This reversal of roles has given rise to new issues in Angolan society.

“Some Angolans I talked to regard the situation as re-colonisation, and complain about discrimination in terms of salaries and working conditions,” Waldorff says.

Served at tables
One example of differential treatment can be seen at one of central Luanda’s firms where Angolan employees line up for lunch, while the Portuguese are served at tables by waiters.

However, stories of discrimination are told by Portuguese as well. It is common to hear complaints about their dealings with Angolan officials. Illegal immigration from Portugal to Angola has also become a hot topic. Nowadays, authorities are increasingly looking out for white illegal immigrants instead of other black Africans as has been a main focus in the recent past. In a police operation at one of the NGO offices in town the police picked out two white Canadians and asked for their documents, and ignored the black Kenyan in the room. Portuguese immigrants confirm this change of attitudes:

“In many cases their visas constantly need to be renewed, which creates insecurity. They also talk about corruption in the process of issuing visas and people being cheated by bureaucrats promising visas for a fee.”

Open criticism
It has been surprising, says Waldorff, that the Portuguese are often open in their criticisms. By contrast, Angolans are often more reserved than he anticipated.

“There are historical reasons for the lack of trust. The war created a culture of fear and people avoid talking about things that can be regarded as politics.”

However, Waldorff often benefits from his Angolan background. As a child, he lived in the country for six years in the 1980s and early 1990s, and he returned for his PhD studies in 2009.

“I have Angolan friends who can vouch for me. It’s a great help.”

The project will go on for three years and in May and July Pétur Waldorff and Lisa Åkesson will share some preliminary findings at two conferences in Paris, one of them focusing specifically on new trends in migration, from North to South.



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