An Interview with Vitor Marques, Mayor of Caldas da Rainha

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It was an honor to meet with Vítor Marques and hear his thoughts on the immigrant community in Caldas da Rainha. Vítor Marques was elected in 2021 running his campaign on the “Vamos mudar” [Let’s Change] movement. He is invested in the Municipality and believes it is important that the community feels supported by him and his administration.
The challenges?
A rapidly growing population of immigrants has created challenges for the Municipality that they are working hard to mitigate. Vítor Marques stated that some immigrants who move to Portugal are self-sufficient, being either retired or working remotely, and do not require jobs or social aid. It is typically easier for these people to integrate, especially if they have school-age children. Those who need jobs and help experience more difficulties. The Municipality is working hard to provide social support for the dramatically increased number of immigrants in need. Currently, 25% of support service requests are from immigrants with difficulties such as lack of jobs and affordable housing that both immigrants and local people are facing.
Another concern Vítor Marques expressed was that there has been an escalation in the number of migrants living illegally in the country/city, not being able to access social benefits, and living in overcrowded housing. This population does not use the national health service and/or has difficulty accessing it, which can lead to public health problems.
How have things changed?
Vítor Marques said that social exclusion and poverty, wars, global inequalities, climate change, as well as displacement and forced migration, require greater attention and involvement on our part. Since taking office, Caldas da Rainha joined the Centro Local de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes (CLAIM), which is a resource for immigrants. In partnership with the High Commission for Migration (ACM), CLAIM’s purpose is to support the process of welcoming and integrating migrants, coordinating local organizations, and promoting cultural integration. The service helps immigrants in areas such as housing, jobs, education, healthcare, and more.
What support is available?
Vítor Marques said that the Municipality is always trying to answer the population’s requests, both Portuguese and from abroad. There are multiple projects to help address issues that are being presented. One of those issues is housing. There is a big project underway to create homes for Portuguese and foreigners. With the rise in house rents, the Municipality is developing “social homes” through EU funds to build and rebuild houses at the historical area in Caldas.
City Hall also now has 22 people working for the Social Development Unit’s Services. A new ‘Radar Social’ scheme will allow the Government to gather more data on local issues to better plan and provide support.
How can immigrants support community integration?
Vítor Marques said that it would be helpful to be more involved in local associations, cultural activities, and knowledge of the language and values of Caldas. There is a real need to bring people closer, to get to know each other, to interact, but it’s a difficult process, as we know. Some people are afraid so it’s important to humanize migrants through testimonies, focusing the story on the person and their country of origin, thus promoting its dissemination to the local community.
There is a great responsibility on the part of local authorities, and as those who are already here, to welcome those who come from outside and who we need. We need them to integrate into the job market, we need them to respond to the needs of the community. Portugal was a country of emigrants. We not only discovered the world, but we also had many immigrants, just as we do today. We, who have always been a people of migrants, and who, perhaps, were not always received in the way we would have liked, have the ability to reverse this situation and receive others as we would have liked to have been received.
Final thoughts
Mayor Vítor Marques openly displays his love for the Municipality and the people in it. He understands the need for diverse communities to join and support each other. When asked what he appreciates about the city, Vitor Marques laughed and said “Everything”. There is so much to love about Caldas like the weather, proximity to the sea and other major cities, its rich history, and strong cultural and sport offerings. Caldas has features that make it world famous such as the history of Bordallo Pinheiro, the School of Art and Design (ESAD), the Thermal Baths, and the Praça da Fruta. Vitor Marques said we have the capacity for creativity, and because of this many are settling in Caldas today. As migrants, we can contribute by supporting local businesses, getting involved in cultural events, and lending a hand when we can. Have a conversation with someone who is not like you. Ask questions, give a smile, and remember that we are all just trying to do the best we can in a beautiful place called Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. ■
Acknowledgments: Artwork by Robert Hanson
Contributions from Flavia L. Lamattina, Lucy Gray and Ana Frazão Boavida
Sarah Monares