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Portuguese professionals flee to Angola

Former colony in southern Africa offers an escape from southern Europe's economic downturn.

“Angola really lacks skilled professionals,” explained Ricardo Bordalo, Luanda correspondent of the Portuguese news agency Lusa. “During all those years of war, the priority of the Angolan government was not in training managers and professionals, it was buying Kalashnikovs.”

According to official estimates, there are about 100,000 Portuguese now living in Angola, a country of about 18 million. The real figure could be much higher, taking into account those who have acquired dual-nationality — a possibility for many thousands born in the African country before independence.

Around 25,000 Portuguese were reported to have made the trip south in each of the past three years, with long lines for work visas often forming outside Lisbon’s Angolan consulate. Even the abrupt, but apparently temporary, hiatus in Angola’s boom triggered by the collapse of oil prices last year failed to stem the flow.

Many of the new Portuguese emigrants are small business owners, young managers and professionals looking for opportunites to boost their careers, or skilled workers such as bricklayers, electricians and construction site foremen.

Although many have been successful, life under the palm trees of Angola’s seaside capital may not have turned out to be the expected El Dorado.

“Life can be tough here,” said Nobre da Veiga. “We miss lots of things: cinemas, the theater, traffic is impossible, health care may not be what we’re used to in Europe, there are power cuts, water cuts. But there has been tremendous progress in the past few years.”

Many who came to set up small businesses were hit hard by the impact of the global recession on Angola and found it difficult to survive in Luanda, one of the world’s most expensive capitals. The economy contracted in 2009, but growth is expected to bounce back to 7 percent this year.

Although many of the Portuguese newcomers are too young to remember the colonial years, Bordalo says Angola may not be a totally strange country to them.

“There’s an emotional link between Angola and Portugal that runs deep," he said. "I came here for the first time in 2003, but I’ve lived with an image of Angola in my head, pretty much since I was a kid, because my grandfather came here in the 1940s, died and is buried here. For millions of Portuguese there’s a link to Angola.”