Solidarity with refugees in Portugal: A collaborative research


The so-called refugee crisis has prompted the emergence of different types of solidarity and activism, some of which are trying to mount resistance against the increasing limitations posed by local, national and European asylum policies. Civil society’s engagement has been particularly noticeable as a response to the broad and emotionalized (Karakayali and Kleist, 2015; Fontanari; 2017) coverage by media and social networks.

Although relationships established between host communities and asylum seekers have allowed for new strategies of collaboration, agency and participation, the role played by former refugees and refugee activists is usually less visible in the accounts of these initiatives. Nonetheless, there are collectives of refugee activists within the solidarity system, which take part in the mobilization, mediation and support of newcomers through informal support networks.

Being simultaneously citizens and former refugees themselves, activists in Portugal provide alternatives to the sometimes distant or ineffective mechanisms of institutional support. Activists provide assistance in crucial areas such as the access to legal aid, education, health and livelihoods. Be it through established relationships with national institutions, aid workers and local solidarity collectives, or through informal platforms, activists are regarded by their help recipients as paramount in the process of social inclusion.

This article is a co-production between a psychologist and PhD student in Anthropology; and two refugee activists, both leaders of an association formed exclusively by refugees and former refugees (União de Refugiados em Portugal- UREP). Together, the three will be looking into their perceptions of solidarity towards refugees in Portugal, underlining some of the visible contradictions in the current support system, which could be described, as Agier puts it (Agier, 2011): ‘the hand that cares and hand that strikes’.

A daily struggle takes place in the relational spaces between institutions which represent the humanitarian government, and activists that bring forward the perceptions and needs of asylum seekers and refugees, conveyed through the activists’ informal relationships with them. In writing collaboratively, the three authors expect to shed some light on the daily lives of informal solidarity agents and to enrich the academic debate with the reflections that have emerged from their daily interactions.

Keywords: Solidarity; Refugees; Activism; Collaborative Research


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