JOURNEY TO PORTUGAL
 - In a political context -
Journey to Portugal is a political film that seeks to foster debate on the workings of the police and civil society.

Numbers
In Portugal, as in the whole of the European Union, the number of people subjected to immediate or almost immediate expulsion in airports is striking. (see table below) Every year, the number goes unnoticed because the thousands of stories behind each of the figures remain untold.
The way things stand today, what does it matter how many are expelled at airports? The images of African corpses in the seas around fortress Europe have become so commonplace that the daily interrogations and expulsions appear to be a minor matter.
Nevertheless, thanks to our indifference, everyday thousands of individuals are interrogated straight off the aeroplane, in Europe. Hundreds are sent back to their country of origin. They are not criminals, they are not traffickers; most have their papers in order and valid entrance visas. These are people who have paid their airfare, a sum that often represents several months salary, yet are sometimes treated with hostility.

Interrogations
The aim of the police interrogations is to get these travellers, armed with their tourist visas, to admit they have come to the country with the idea of finding work in mind. In Portugal, for instance, it was for many years common practice to throw out lines such as: “you know there’s a new law in force that means a foreigner like you can work here now. Would that interest you at all?” The interrogator would pose almost as a friend or counsellor. Innocent Angolans and Brazilians, who didn’t think to strongly deny any possible interest in working in Europe, were immediately put on a return flight with the instruction that they would first have to get a work visa back home. More often than not, there was not even any need for lengthy interrogations or false confessions. Police prejudice or presumption of intent was enough. Little did it matter that their families were waiting at the airport for them. Little did it matter that they had valid tourist visas. Little did it matter that they had worked for years to save enough money for the trip.

Silence
Journey to Portugal throws light on a tiny tip of the iceberg: the fact that these everyday police practices are consigned to the silence of statistics. There is a total lack of transparency regarding police procedures in very many situations. In Portugal, civil society has no way of knowing what really happens in the majority of cases the police handle.
Lawyers, Immigrant Protection Associations and journalists are forbidden access to police controlled areas in Portuguese airports (with few exceptions). In other EU countries, like France, this police impunity no longer exists. The regular presence of associations at interrogations is authorised and abuses do not go unreported.

Examples
The film Journey to Portugal has deliberately chosen to tell a story that is not particularly serious – a drop in the ocean compared to the drama of people with far more difficult lives, and for whom the experience of interrogation and expulsion is much more traumatic. Nor does it focus on the people who are killed or injured by the police at airports in the first world (Belgium, France, Canada, the United States, etc.) Nor does it focus on the poor conditions of airport cells (this was dealt with by the Portuguese press in 2005). The aim is to show that even in a relatively minor case, the whole process is riddled with preconceptions about race, appearance, type, and sexuality. And that even the mildest cases are nevertheless bitter.

Governamental Strategies
15 years on from the start of the wave of migration to Portugal (the theme of my film Lisboetas), it is clear today that our political leaders did not know how to manage the situation intelligently or how to find a way for the country to make the most of the inadvertent “brain gain*” that fell into their laps. In a short period of time, Portugal received thousands of highly educated people, well trained in specific areas, and yet they wasted most of this valuable human capital by putting senseless obstacles in their paths. The case of medicine is particularly striking. Portugal is a country that has been so poorly governed over the last two decades that it has not trained doctors in sufficient numbers. Currently, there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of today’s population, so demand is met by importing doctors from Latin America. And yet nothing was done in the mid-nineties to facilitate matters for the hundreds of Eastern European doctors who would have welcomed the chance to practice medicine in Portugal.

Hiddens Truths
When I was making my documentary Lisboetas, t took weeks of difficult negotiations with SEF (Customs and Border Protection Service), to get permission to film at an immigrant-processing centre in Lisbon. The rule sine qua non was that we were absolutely forbidden to film any of the SEF staff. In the event, filming at that location, which had been scheduled to take two days, was shut down by SEF’s communications’ department after just three hours. We were kindly expelled... “because the presence of the camera interfered with the provision of good service”.
When Lisboetas opened, the board of SEF invited me to a meeting. The aim of the meeting was to explain to me that SEF was a transparent institution. So I suggested that they gave me permission to shoot a film in an airport’s interrogation rooms. They said they would look into it. Naturally, I never did receive an answer.
There are hidden truths. In Portugal, the powers that be (governmental, judicial, the police) are panicked by the thought of exposure. Despite the limited resources available to them, they manage their public image down to the minutest detail. What they most fear being revealed is not just their abuses of power but their incompetence. That is the thread that runs through this Viagem a Portugal a freely adapted fictionalised account of a true story.

TRAVELLERS DENIED ENTRY IN SOME EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
Source: Annual reports of the European Migration Network (EMN) and Europe Press

  2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
France 33.232 35.921 34.127 26.593   16.524
Spain *       17.408 12.000 9.215
Italy 24.528 19.336 20.267 9.394    
UK 39.020 30.010 29.945 28.140 32.365 29.160
Portugal 4.327 4.146 3.598 3.963 3 598 2.564
* Only at Barajas airport, Madrid.

Countries more represented
Source: SEF anual reports

1998 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Angola
286
Brazil
1394
Brazil
1348
Brazil
2175
Brazil
2339
Brazil
2910
Brazil
2161
Brazil
1749
Brazil
2068
Brazil
2333
Brasil
1668
Brasil
257
Angola
164
Angola
528
Angola
927
Angola
254
Venezuela
216
Bolivia
617
Venezuela
435
Venezuela
624
Senegal
431
Senegal
162
G-Bissau
117
G-Bissau
95
G-Bissau
104
Senegal
165
Senegal
127
Bolivia
214
Venezuela
329
Bolivia
329
Senegal
407
Venezuela
157
Angola
145
Senegal
72
Senegal
67
Senegal
83
G-Bissau
102
Bolivia
121
Angola
128
Senegal
120
Senegal
273
Angola
113
Angola
103
G-Bissau
123
  Equador
66

Ukraine
41

Roménia
75
G-Bissau
107
G-Bissau
115
G-Bissau
105
G-Bissau
104
G-Bissau
97
G-Bissau
87
Venezuela
91
  Nigéria
65
  Ukraine
71
  Senegal
99
Paraguai
105
       
  Ukraine
36
  Bolivia
65
  Colombia
69
Bulgaria
75
       
  G-Conacri
35
  G-Conacri
64
  Paraguai
42
Colômbia
71
       
Total
1497
Total
2474

(95,2% at Lisbon airport)
Total
2637

(89,7% at Lisbon airport)
Total
4196

(92,2% at Lisbon airport)
Total
3700

(95,9% at Lisbon airport)
Total
4335

(94,1% at Lisbon airport)
Total
4146

(92,7% at Lisbon airport)
Total
3598

(93% at Lisbon airport)
Total
3963

(91% at Lisbon airport)
Total
3598

(94,2% at Lisbon airport)
Total
2564

(94,9% at Lisbon airport)