Speaking to Lusa News Agency one of the protest’s organisers, Paulo Costa, of the Migrants United group, said the action is being staged to demand an improvement to services at the consulate. Among the main bones of contention is the fact that getting an appointment to renew necessary ID documents can entail a two-month wait.
Reports this week claimed that even on the day of an appointment, visitors can wait a number of hours longer than the time indicated, and the general working day does not seem to be long enough to attend to all of the people with a scheduled appointment.
“The problem has been ongoing for a long time, but in the past two years alone, some 100,000 Portuguese have arrived [in the UK] and only now are they faced with the situation”, Costa said.
In recent years both the Portuguese government and politicians have made mention of the “small team” of 14 employees that work at the consulate, but blamed a heightened lack of resources on a growing number of users.
Figures in the public domain suggest the consulate sees a daily average of 30 people and carries out a monthly average of 4,000 consular acts.
At the end of last month, the shortage of resources at the consulate was thrust to the fore when the absence of four employees who were off sick caused scenes of chaos and police had to be called in to restore order.
Unnamed consular sources reportedly told Lusa such scenes are regular occurrences, as are requests for the complaints book.
Addressing the rising number of complaints, Paulo Costa said he believes the “community’s emotional state” justifies the organisation of a protest, which in his opinion should also serve to put pressure on politicians at a time when there are fewer than eight months to go until the next general elections.
“We want people to come out and get the authorities’ attention to try and get things moving”, he explained.
The staging of the protest on 28 February, in the afternoon, when the consulate is closed, is intended to attract Portuguese citizens who work during the week as well as people who live outside of the capital.
The organisers are also aiming to gather the greatest number possible of signatures on an open letter that they intend to hand over at a later date to the Consul General Joana Gaspar.
Commenting on the London-centred community website AllinLondon, user reviews of the Portuguese Consulate range from the highly impressed to the downright bewildered.
While one reviewer described the service as “amazing” and praise-worthy, many others had less glowing comments to leave.
One Portuguese national from London described the assistance he received at the Consulate as “ridiculous and unbelievable”; another user identified as Isa from Cambridge said: “As a Portuguese citizen, I am really ashamed of such a poor service! Very unhelpful website.”
A reviewer from Bristol compared a trip to the Portuguese Consulate General in London to a “trip to hell”, explaining: “The staff are rude, impolite, lack a sense of humour, have no sense of time and efficiency and lack courtesy.”
Meanwhile, in related news, it has emerged that some of the employees at the Consulate General have asked the British government for welfare as they claim their salaries are too low to survive in London.
One employee, who spoke to Lusa on the condition of anonymity, said their application for social support last year was “automatically accepted” because the British authorities are aware of their struggles and was granted a rent subsidy.
The employee complained that a wage of around £1,000 a month is not enough to survive after paying for the rent of a one-bedroom flat that is shared with a friend, coupled with other living costs such as transport and food.
“It is extremely low for the amount of work we do and the responsibility we have. We see at least 30 people a day and we take care of important documents and information. It’s embarrassing”, the employee said, and stressed it is a situation that has been ongoing for a number of years.
A report in Diário de Notícias on Wednesday this week claims that the number of Portuguese-speaking nationals assisted at a community centre set up in London has more than doubled since 2013. Last year the Portuguese Community Centre saw five hundred people.
The centre was originally set up in 2012 to provide support to Portuguese emigrants in London, but rapidly expanded to help all Portuguese-speaking nationals due to a growing demand that apparently shows no signs of slowing down.
The Portugal News approached the office of the State Secretary for Communities and the Consulate-General in London for comment earlier in the week, but none had been received by the time of going to press.