By José de Bouza Serrano, Ambassador of Portugal in The Hague.
Frontiers fix the boundaries of countries, divide people and create national compartments, a fact reflected in maps and territories, but, people have always and even more so in the enlarged communitarian space, moved easily because emigration is, essentially, moving.
A change of house, scenery, work and country is, in most cases, based on a wish to improve conditions of life and family.
Fifty years ago, on the 22nd of November 1963 The Convention between the Netherlands and the PortugueseRepublic was signed in Lisbon regarding emigration, recruitment and the outplacement of Portuguese workers in the Netherlands. And whereas this Protocol marked, in the beginning, the arrival of a small group of workers also known as “gastarbeiders” to this country, the number of Portuguese in search of a better life since then has grown steadily. Others came for political reasons, mainly students, who refused to fight in the colonial war, finding more support and tolerance in this society.
But we have to go further back in History to see that already in the 17th century the first Portuguese Jewish emigrants sought refuge in the Republic of the Netherlands for religious reasons. They found refuge in Amsterdam where they built the famous Portuguese Synagogue, a well preserved universal monument. In the 20th century, after the First World War, Holland felt the need of more workmanship, especially in the areas of agriculture and fishery. Most Portuguese emigrants therefore moved to this country and continued to do so until the beginning of World War II. The end of this destructive period marked the renewed recruitment of foreign workmanship, this time mostly for the primary sector and the mining industry. The injection of capital provided by the Marshall Plan stimulated the secondary sector, specifically the electro domestic, car, aeronautic and petrochemical industries.
During the sixties the number of “gastarbeiders” reached 1500, but as a consequence of the family reunion that started with the Protocol of ’63, this number soon went up to 2000 and later on to 3500 Portuguese.
After the Revolution of April 1974, the statistics indicated 7500 Portuguese people working and living in the Netherlands, a number that grew higher together with the negotiations about the adhesion of Portugal to the European Communities. The Dutch Foreigners Law made it possible that many of our compatriots adopted the Dutch nationality, also were there more mixed marriages and children born from these mixtures who were registered as Dutch citizens (however, many of them were registered at the Consulate-General of Rotterdam). This important increase of Portuguese initiated a considerable movement of associative activities. It would be interesting to study and describe this process in order to understand how they came to conquer the statute they have nowadays.
Today, the Consular Section of the Portuguese Embassy has about 40 thousand registered Portuguese. The European economic crisis that started in 2008 and its effects on Portuguese society are felt in a way that a lot of young people emigrate because they cannot find employment in their home country. But, being citizens of the European Union and having the advantage of the mobility that comes with the European space, they don’t feel or see the necessity of being registered at the Consular Section of the Portuguese Embassy so that many of them remain unknown and we only come across each other in our daily life by coincidence.
The Federation of the Portuguese Community in the Netherlands, founded in the 80-ies of the former century decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this way of living that changed the lives of many Dutch and Portuguese people, of whom many still live here with their descendants or return because their homesick of the country that once received them.
For that reason the Federation organized, in November 2013, at the University of Amsterdam, a symposium called “Destino Holanda” (Destination Holland) which will be followed in the current year by a book with the different stories, lives and experiences describing this particular phenomenon of emigration. If we want to have a fruitful future, besides the past that I have just described briefly, this common way of being Portuguese has to be based on plurality, tolerance and an imaginative belief that is attractive for new generations. This is how Portuguese people will remain an important component in the economic development and social wellbeing of Dutch society that welcomed them and has grown with their daily work.