Portugal’s migrants hope for new life in old African colony

Increasing numbers of Europeans are going to Mozambique in search of work, but many have unrealistic expectations.

It is Wednesday, and 31-year-old Maria Nunes is picking at her husband’s grilled sardines, laughing at a comment from her friend Carlos, across the table. This group of young professionals have gathered at the Associação Portuguesa for their weekly lunch. It is a reunion of sorts, for the group of expatriates to talk about all things Portuguese over the black and white checkered tablecloths.

All eight were born in Portugal but now live in Mozambique.

The southern African country is famed for its prawn curries, balmy Indian Ocean beaches and local jazz, but the former Portuguese colony is experiencing a resurgence in foreign investment – and foreign migrants – as coal reserves are discovered in the north, urban centres develop in a frenzy of construction, and Europe slides further into economic meltdown.

Maria, a freelance graphic designer, and her husband, Ricardo, moved to Maputo in 2006, interrupted by a brief spell in Angola for Ricardo’s work as a civil engineer. The couple say they love Maputo and chose to live there because it is so Portuguese. “There’s so many new people arriving everyday,” Maria says. “They just keep coming. Four years ago it was very quiet. But two years ago everything changed. It feels like it’s tripled in the last two years. Every week I see new people in the restaurants, the clubs. “She shakes her head in bewilderment. “My hometown is small, in the middle of nowhere, but there are still three or four people from there who are here.” Maria says there’s an email group of thousands online, made up of Portuguese expats living in Mozambique and those in Europe who want to make the move. “Every day there’s another CV from Portugal, someone else looking for a job, wanting to come,” she says. And now finding work in Maputo is getting more and more difficult. Her friend Carlos Quadros, a newly arrived environmental engineer from Lisbon, says: “Things aren’t so good in Portugal, it’s in crisis. There’s no work at all, and if you get work, you don’t get good pay. And it’s going to get worse.” He says there are many more opportunities in Mozambique, but it depends on your area of expertise. If you’re an architect or engineer, or have technical skills, there are plenty of jobs. There has been a 30% to 40% increase in the number of Portuguese migrants choosing to move to Mozambique over the past two years, says the consul general, Graça Gonçalves Pereira. And while Portuguese nationals don’t have to register at the embassy so concrete numbers are hard to come by, she says the population is in the tens of thousands. “We can see there are more people now,” Pereira says. “It’s no surprise. It’s natural to look for something better, and Portuguese people always emigrate. It’s been a habit of ours since the 16th century.”

Many migrants arrive on fixed-term contracts with Portuguese companies who have invested in Mozambique, she says, but most will leave after their contracts end.

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