December 6, 2007 / 2:52 PM / 10 years ago

Europe dream turns sour for African migrant youth

<p>In this file photo a policeman points at a would-be immigrant as he walks at the port of Los Cristianos in Spain's Canary Island of Tenerife July 20, 2007. The dream of a new life that brought their parents from Africa has turned sour for thousands of youngsters across Europe who are grappling with unemployment and bitterness in run-down city ghettos. REUTERS/Santiago Ferrero</p>

COVA DA MOURA, Portugal (Reuters) - The dream of a new life that brought their parents from Africa has turned sour for thousands of youngsters across Europe who are grappling with unemployment and bitterness in run-down city ghettos.

In Lisbon’s biggest African quarter Cova da Moura -- “the Moor’s hideout” -- young black youths lounge against battered cars and graffiti-painted walls, smoking marijuana, chatting and complaining of discrimination and police brutality.

Portugal, once a major colonial power in Africa, has about 300,000 African immigrants. Similar complaints can be heard from second-generation African Europeans in other countries like Spain and France, where frustration and resentment among children of migrants has boiled over into violent street riots.

“My Dad from Cape Verde worked for 30 years in construction and now he’s all broken up. He earns a pension of 150 euros a month, which is nothing,” said Nuno, a 26-year-old jobless youth who was recently released after serving 7 years in jail.

“Because of my criminal record, I can’t find a decent job,” he added. He declined to say what he was jailed for, dismissing his crime as “things that happen in life.”

As European and African leaders prepare for a weekend summit in Lisbon aimed at boosting ties between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the poorest continent, many Africans living in Europe wonder if they have the better life their parents sought.

“I don’t do anything ... you could say I‘m retired,” said 27-year-old Vitor “V,” leaning against a wall dressed in a red tracksuit, trainers and wearing sunglasses. He gave his profession as “rapper,” but said he wasn’t performing.

While his parents left Cape Verde’s drought-parched islands three decades ago to seek prosperity in Europe, Vitor complained bitterly of being treated as a second-class citizen in Portugal, where he has gained citizenship through his birth.

“What’s the point of being born legally here, if you’re then not treated the same as others,” he told Reuters.

Many of the youngsters interviewed said the thousands of Africans who risk their lives each year in perilous land and sea journeys to seek jobs in Europe are pursuing a nebulous mirage.

<p>A grandchild of African migrants plays with a bicycle tyre in the Cova da Moura district in Lisbon December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Nacho Doce</p>

“People think Europe is paradise but they don’t know what its like here. It’s almost as tough to do well here as it is in some parts of Africa,” said Bah Cherno, a 34 year-old from Guinea Conakry. “Its hard, very hard.”

“I‘M EUROPEAN”

While their parents found plentiful jobs from eager employers in Portugal’s booming construction sector in the 1970s and 1980s, the Iberian nation’s economy has since lost steam and migrants’ children complain of being marginalized.

One in every five immigrants in Portugal has a university degree but only one in 26 has a job compatible with their qualifications, according to the government-sponsored Immigration Observatory.

Experts estimate there are at least 5.8 million African immigrants living in Europe.

But not everyone sees migration as a wasted effort.

“The European dream is not a complete illusion if Africans come here looking for minimum living conditions. It is better to have some bread than nothing,” said Timoteo Macedo, president of Solidariedade Imigrante, an association that helps immigrants.

“These immigrants send millions of euros to their families back home,” he added.

Virginia Mendes, 85, who left her home on Cape Verde’s Santiago island 30 years ago and now runs a fruit stall in Couva da Moura, says she and her husband made a new life in Portugal.

“I won’t go back. I have no family left in Cape Verde. What would I do there? I‘m European,” she said, but she added life was hard and jobs were getting scarcer.

Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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