Migrants – and their labour - welcome in Lisbon


At lunch under the sweltering Lisbon sun, representatives from Birmingham, Brighton and Utrecht stickied their fingers with honied Qatayef, served up by Tayybeh, a catering service run by two Syrian refugees. Lisbon does a lot to allow immigrants and refugees to contribute to the local economy, and the city representatives were there along with EUROCITIES to learn about what was working, and to make their own suggestions.

From idea to reality

Migrants arrive in Lisbon with various levels of business acumen, and the city is ready to get them up and running with its National Immigrant Support Centre. At this ‘one-stop-shop’ migrants interested in entering business can avail of many services such as legal, social and employment support.
Its Migrant Entrepreneur Support Office does exactly what you might imagine: come in with your business idea and they can help you with a business plan, training programmes, obtaining micro-credit, or finding a reliable accountant. These services are translated into Arabic, so that the struggles to learn Portuguese and to start a business can be treated separately. A team of 200 mentors also volunteer to help orient migrant entrepreneurs within Lisbon’s business landscape.

Procuring social value

Seeing the success of this programme, the other cities offered suggestions on how Lisbon can intervene through public procurement to create a more even playing field for migrants. This includes encouraging larger firms who apply for contracts to subcontract to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It can also be achieved by including social value as a factor in tendering e.g. grading applicants not just on cost, but also on categories like inclusivity.
Lisbon has already taken a step in this direction, compiling a list of migrant-run enterprises in order to contact them about procurement opportunities. This doesn’t mean giving migrant groups special treatment, merely keeping them in the loop so that they have a fair opportunity to participate.

City as ship’s captain

The Portuguese have long been famous navigators, and Lisbon sees its ultimate role in migrant integration as that of ship’s captain. The city works to assist and coordinate the many able-bodied NGOs and volunteer organisations dedicated to migrant integration. The municipality’s Temporary Centre for Refugees, for example, which has committed to hosting 500 refugees, is managed by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). JRS equips its residents with the cultural knowledge and skills to move into autonomous housing after a period of two months.
Long-term housing for these refugees is sourced by Crescer na Maior, another NGO. This group, among other projects, seeks out available housing, matches possible house-mates, and eases integration through regular visits and mentoring. Finding work or starting a new business is demanding enough as it is, let alone when one has no home to call one’s own.
Through this multi-faceted approach, and helped along by the other cities in Cities Grow, Lisbon intends to honour its history. The city is built on the efforts of intrepid explorers who sailed westward to find fortune and stimulate business, now it is set to benefit from that same enterprising spirit among those braving all to make their own westward journey a success.