Bangladeshi immigrants now at forefront at Portugal’s Lisbon neighbourhood
About 6,000 people live at Downtown in Mouraria area of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, of which 25 percent are immigrants. People from 50 countries of the world live in this part of Lisbon where the Bangladeshi community is now at the forefront.
A recent statistics, conducted by local organisation Association Renovar Memorial, came up with this information. According to their report, Bangladesh, India, China, Brazil, Nepal, Mozambique, and Guinea have the highest number of people living in the region.
The Mouraria area was once inhabited by the people of Moorish or Morocco, hence the name -- Mouraria. The Andalusia region of Europe, including Lisbon, was once part of Muslim rule. In 1148, Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, conquered Lisbon and decided to settle here. At the time, the area was considered one of the most neglected areas in Lisbon.
This part has a long history and 900 years long tradition and the Bangladeshi community has been living here for the last three decades. For being the heart of the city and an ancient commercial area, this vicinity has become a favorite destination for South Asian immigrants. Since 90's, about 25,000 Bangladeshis have been living in Portugal, including Mouraria.
Bangladeshis own more than 40 of the 90 businesses or shops located in the Rua do Benformoso road. Many people termed the road as Bangla Town. Interestingly, although most of the restaurants here are Bangladeshi owned, the local council has declared this road as a specialised Indian restaurant area.
There are local restaurants as well as grocery shops, salons, mobile shops and halal meat shops. Moreover, there are three mosques under the supervision of Bangladeshis where people from different countries of the world are getting the opportunity to perform regular prayers. Besides, various commercial activities including Portuguese language educational institutions have been developed at the initiative of Bangladeshi youth.
To protect Lisbon city in the 14th century, the Fernandinha Wall was erected on the side of the Mouraria in just two years, some of which are still specially preserved as heritage and monuments. The wall contained more than 60 observation towers, of which only a few remain, and the Tori de Pella on the west side of the Monastery of the Mónicas is a site now recognised as the National Monument of Portugal.
This square is very important in Mouraria area because it is known as a gathering place for people of different countries, cultures and faiths. In addition to the various Portuguese festivals, a large congregation of Muslims Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, the Holi festival of the Hindus, the Chinese New Year are being organised here for the past few decades.
Currently, this area is mostly inhabited by local elderly people. Because of this, most of the economic and commercial activities here are being conducted by migrants from South Asia including Bangladeshis. The Centre Commercial Mouraria Market, which was launched in 1989, from where local traders in Lisbon used to collect goods at wholesale prices, is now fully controlled by immigrants from various South Asian countries, including Bangladeshis.
Due to the large number of immigrants living in the Mouraria area, the house rent here is relatively high. Moreover, due to its location in the city centre and commercial area, the cost of living here is a bit higher. Being a Bangladeshi-inhabited area and easy communication system, people from all over the world, including Bangladeshis, are flocking to this area, making Mouraria the most diverse community area in Lisbon.
Mouraria is part of Lisbon's original city and still stands, with several buildings that were the victims of the 1755 earthquake, tidal wave and fire. People have been living here through next reform and the City Corporation is preserving the city's heritage. As a result, the area is always crowded with tourists.
The writer is freelance journalist