Natural of Passeio Grande, São Tomé and Príncipe, retired, 63 years old, being a migrant for more than 30 years... On the eve of his return to his country of origin, through the Voluntary Return and Reintegration (ARVoRe) Support Program IOM, Mr. Fernando tells how he first emigrated to Angola, where he lived for 18 years with his wife and children, and then returned to Sao Tome due to family issues.
However, he wasn’t able to make a living in his city again, which seemed even smaller and without opportunities. So, he packed his bags and left again, this time to Portugal, where he arrived in 2001 with the intention to stay for a long time. "At that time there were work opportunities and I had my older brother there to welcome me, and I had worked with Portuguese before in Angola."
Topographer in São Tomé, truck driver and driver in Angola, would work in the construction industry in Portugal, seizing opportunities as a painter and carpenter (a function in which he already had some experience), and he also worked on residue separation.
Life smiled at him, "the bosses liked my work, I never went hungry, since I always had chicken on the table.
When he wanted to buy other goods, such as the TV and DVD, he would wait for the “13th month”.
He always lived alone, confessing that he missed his family missed having a wife. "Here women can earn more than men, in domestic work, and they don’t want men with minimum wage". And age also counts, adds Mr. Fernando, who arrived in Portugal at almost 50 years.
However, the biggest problem was when, in 2010, he became ill. "If it weren’t for the disease, I would still be working today." In a routine appointment, Mr. Fernando was diagnosed with a heart condition, which led him to a surgical procedure in less than a month after he heard the news.
"From that moment everything changed: I lost my job. I was working on that company for six years, but after the health problem I went home with a pension of only 178 euros for disability. In addition, I became homeless because my brother died in that same year. With my income, I had to count with the support from the food bank… and from God!”
It was going through this situation that made him decide to return to his country. "Here, at 63, I'm not lucky, young people maybe, but I'm not.
" However it is not easy to return after so many years. And it is harder to return empty-handed, mainly because "those who are there think that those who return from Europe have an obligation to carry worlds and funds". In São Tomé he has four children, with whom he has been in contact, but they have no idea of everything he has been through.
For Mr. Fernando, however, "Portugal was a school", and he doesn’t regret having migrated here. "I do not come back rich, but I come back healthy, and that's the most important thing". Anyway, he says, "in São Tomé, someone who has a family will never go hungry and there is always a way to go somewhere; here, someone who does not have money for transportation won’t go anywhere". He concludes with a smile, "our land is our land".
On the eve of the return trip, Mr. Fernando was confident, he managed to get support for Reintegration, part of the ARVoRe Project, and says "with this business things will be different". He will explore an already existing space by the beach, to set up a barbecue business. "The fishermen always come from the sea with hunger, I believe there are no lack of customers for my barbecued chicken and cold beer." He added, "IOM's help was a gift". .