Romanian immigrant sets himself on fire

His body covered almost 100% with third degree burns, a Romanian immigrant in Portugal preferred this end to the constant threats of the eastern European mafia.

The 28-year-old man doused himself with petrol in front of a police station in Montijo, southern Portugal. He had poured so much over himself that attempts to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher failed and the fire brigade had to be called. By this time, his body was nearly 100% covered in third degree burns, the more serious type.

His situation in the burns unit of Santa Maria Hospital; Lisbon, is critical. The reason why he tried to commit suicide in this manner is that he was a victim of extortion by the eastern European mafia, mainly run by Moldavians and Ukrainians, but people of other nationalities can fall victim to their evil schemes.

Portugal has been seen until recently as an easy option for immigrants, since the legislation was more lax. More than 100,000 immigrants from eastern Europe (mainly the Ukraine, but also Moldavia, Romania and some Russians) came into the country, many through the channels operated by the mafia. After an initial payment in the country of origin, a work contract was promised and the immigrant left home (his family already having been searched out carefully by the mafia) with rainbows in his or her eyes.

What began in many cases was a nightmare. Whatever cash they had with them was taken off them systematically along the way and after they arrived, they were visited at the end of every month by stern-looking men who requested help for compatriots . Failure to pay has been met with death, a severe beating or threats against the family at home. It is not understood by the Portuguese how anybody could exploit their fellow countrymen in this manner and this caused a change of public opinion against these immigrants, opinion which had been extremely favourable, since the Portuguese, one of the few countries in western Europe to do so, felt respect for people from these countries. A Ukrainian who held a car owner at knifepoint for two hours was saved from being lynched by a crowd of 200 people only by swift and brutal action by the police. The law has since been changed and the authorities have stated that the door is now closed to anyone who did not submit their work contract for inspection before 1st December, 2001. Those bosses who employ illegally without documentation face severe fines and even imprisonment.

The Portuguese Judiciary Police, one of the best forces in the world, are investigating claims of extortion from the special Help Commission set up and the mafia are being exposed one by one. Their stay in prison will not be a holiday since the Portuguese police and prison services are constantly in the pages of Amnesty International.

What prospective emigrants from Eastern Europe into Western Europe should do is to use their common sense. In this world, nothing is easy and nobody becomes rich without a lot of hard work. Girls who are promised rivers of money should know that the end of the road is to become a sex slave, a prostitute. Men who are promised highly-paid jobs will probably, or almost certainly, be exploited. There are jobs in western Europe and the salaries and living conditions should allow a careful immigrant in Portugal to send 400/500 USD home every month, but the prospective emigrant should take precautions first, if possible asking the opinion of friends already living in Portugal or waiting to be called by the firm with a contract.

For the girls, there are bars called alterne where the work is basically to speak to the clients and persuade them to drink. The girls receive so much per drink sold and in many of these houses, the pay is excellent and there is no prostitution. In others, it is not the case. Women in Portugal should receive at least 320 USD per month for jobs like cleaning and men, with overtime at weekends, can earn at least 680 USD. It is possible to eat reasonably well with 135 USD per month and there is accommodation for the same price. On arrival, the immigrant should register with the Embassy in Lisbon and find out his or her rights and institutions which will help in case of danger. Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru

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