Refugees from Africa and the Middle East in Portugal

Notes on access to housing and the right to the city



refugees, housing, right to the city, participatory action research, epistemological decolonization


This article deals with the problem of access to housing for refugees from Africa and the Middle East in Portugal. It refers to the challenging period of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020/2021. It also takes as reference the immediately preceding period, including with regard to the impacts of the struggles for the right to housing of a fringe of the urban society, equally impoverished and racialised, living in self-produced neighbourhoods in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area. The work, therefore, aims to raise awareness of this problem as perceived by refugees; to help build a critical counter-narrative about the problem and its meaning, from their disadvantaged positions and perspectives as underprivileged; and, to highlight their participative and collaborative role in building horizons of hope. Methodologically, the concept of the right to the city, participatory action research and collaborative methods are used, so as to grasp knowledge situated in the Refugee Forum Portugal, a network for building new inclusion mechanisms for refugees. It is a space for dialogue, problem solving, epistemological construction and mobilisation strategies, promoted by refugees with academic activists, articulated with decision-makers and institutions amongst other stakeholders. Finally, some conclusions are drawn on access to housing in dialogue with other resources, that is, on the product and the work; on state productivism and the maintenance of the dominant structural system; and, on building social relationships and new ways of life aimed at urban transformation, at the level of space and society, and for long-desired stability.

Author Biography

Sílvia Leiria Viegas, Centro de Investigação em Artes e Comunicação, Universidade do Algarve (CIAC-UAlg)

Sílvia Leiria Viegas is a Portuguese architect who graduated from the Lusíada University of Lisbon in 1999 and, in 2004, attained a Master's degree in Architecture from the Technical University of Lisbon (FA-UTL). In 2009 Sílvia concluded Advanced Studies in Conservation and Rehabilitation, while working towards a Ph.D in Architecture which she accomplished at the University of Lisbon (FA-UL) in early 2015, with the thesis: "Luanda, (un)Predictable city? Government and Urban and Housing Transformation: Paradigms of Intervention and Resistances in the New Millennium". Sílvia is a member of the Urban Socio-Territorial and Local Intervention Study Group (GESTUAL), since 2010, where she participates in the research project "Africa Habitat: From the sustainability of habitat to the quality of inhabit in the urban margins of Luanda and Maputo (2018/2021)", coordinated by Isabel Raposo and sponsored by FCT/Aga Khan. Sílvia is also a member of the Inter-Thematic Group on Migration (ITM) of the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra (CES-UC), since 2017. In 2016, Sílvia participated in the "Global Report on Culture and Sustainable Urban Development: Regional Survey for Portuguese Speaking Countries", coordinated by Walter Rossa and produced by the UNESCO for the "New Urban Agenda", in the context of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, of the United Nations (UN). Sílvia also participated in the research project "Mediterranean City-to-City Migration Project", coordinated by Yves Cabannes and Barbara Lipietz, produced by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) with the Bartlett (DPU), University College of London (UCL), in 2017. Sílvia is an FCT scholarship holder (SFRH/BPD/118022/2016) and is developing her individual post-doctoral research entitled "INSEHRE 21. Socio-spatial and housing inclusion of refugees in contemporary Europe: Lessons from the African diaspora in Portugal" while belonging to the research group Cities, Cultures, and Architecture (CCArq) of the Centre for Social Studies (CES) of the University of Coimbra, since 2017.


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