Since its conception, the European Union has been a haven for those seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty in other parts of the world. But as the EU faces what German chancellor Angela Merkel has called its toughest hour since the second world war, the tables appear to be turning.
A new stream of migrants is leaving the continent. It threatens to become a torrent if the debt crisis continues to worsen. Tens of thousands of Portuguese, Greek and Irish people have left their homelands this year, many heading for the southern hemisphere.
Anecdotal evidence points to the same happening in Spain and Italy.
The Guardian has spoken to dozens of Europeans who have left, or are planning to leave. Their stories highlight surprising new migration routes — from Lisbon to Luanda, Dublin to Perth, Barcelona to Buenos Aires — as well as more traditional migration patterns.
This year, 2,500 Greek citizens have moved to Australia and another 40,000 have “expressed interest” in moving south. Ireland’s central statistics office has projected that 50,000 people will have left the republic by the end of the year, many for Australia and the US.
Portugal’s foreign ministry reports that at least 10,000 people have left for oil-rich Angola. On October 31, there were 97,616 Portuguese people registered in the consulates in Luanda and Benguela, almost double the number in 2005.
The Portuguese are also heading to other former colonies, such as Mozambique and Brazil. According to Brazilian government figures, the number of foreigners legally living in Brazil rose to 1.47 million in June, up more than 50% from 961,877 last December. Not all are Europeans, but the number of Portuguese alone has jumped from 276,000 in 2010 to nearly 330,000.
Gonçalo Pires, a graphic designer who has swapped Lisbon for Rio de Janeiro, said: “It’s a pretty depressing environment there [in Portugal].” In Brazil, by contrast, “there are lots of opportunities to find work, to find clients and projects”. Given the state of its economy, it is no surprise that Greece is in the same boat. In 2010, 1.21 million people emigrated, according to the World Bank, equalling 10.8% of the population. The top destinations were Germany, Australia, Canada, Albania, Turkey, UK, Cyprus, Israel and Belgium. Skilled Greeks are particularly likely to leave — in 2010, 4,886 physicians emigrated, meaning that Greece lost 9.4% of its doctors in just one year.