Portugal: Some Ukrainian refugees in Algarve about to become homeless

Several Ukrainian families who fled the war to the Algarve are on the verge of being homeless due to the start of the tourist season and many have to leave their homes as early as June 1.

Ira Grabenko, 38, arrived in mid-March in Quarteira, in Loulé, in the Faro district, where she has family, and ended up staying with her children, aged 19 and eight, in a flat that was given to them free of charge, she told Lusa.

Despite being warned that the situation would be temporary and that she would have to leave the house in the summer, Ira was convinced that the war “would last one or two weeks” and that she could quickly return to Kiev.

Today, almost three months after the offensive began, Ira knows she cannot return and has no prospects.

“So far we don’t have any solution. If we don’t find a home, we will have to leave the Algarve, it is impossible to find a home here,” she vented.

However, the psychologist’s wish is to stay in the Algarve as her eight-year-old son is already at school, and it is in the region that she has family and a network of social connections: “We don’t want to leave here, but we’ll probably have to”.

For the time being, she is waiting for information from a group of volunteers on long-term rental solutions – a problem that, in the Algarve, affects not only Ukrainian refugees but also Portuguese, and others, due to high demand and scarce supply.

We are “all in the same situation. When we came we hadn’t planned to stay for the summer”, she replied, when asked if she knew of more Ukrainian families forced to leave their homes by June 1st.

In the same situation is Katerina, with three children, aged five, 14 and 17, who was paying 650 euros a month for a flat also in Quarteira, one of the most sought-after areas for holidays in the central Algarve.

According to her brother Vadim, who has been living in the Algarve for several years and speaks fluent Portuguese, told Lusa, his sister was asking for the stay to be extended as long as possible, but now the landlord wants the house back to rent to tourists.

“She’s looking for a house, but so far she hasn’t got one. I don’t know if it is only here that it is so complicated”, he said, noting that his nephews are already in school and that his sister’s wish is to remain in the Algarve, where her parents are also.

For now, Katerina is waiting for an answer from a British person “who is able to find a house”, as there are “many people trying to help”, namely, foreign volunteers, who have “more [financial] possibilities” than the Portuguese.

“What we would prefer is to go back home [to Ukraine], but at the moment it is not possible to go back yet,” Vadim lamented.

Loulé is one of the Algarve municipalities that has organised bus trips to take refugees from Ukraine and has prepared to take in families, having made about 50 shared living quarters available.

However, the Mayor of Loulé told Lusa, although the accommodation has “all the conditions and dignity”, the fact that they are shared has led many to choose to look for housing on the rental market.

According to Vítor Aleixo, “few” have agreed to stay in the accommodation, preferring to find other solutions “on their own”, and there’s also a preference to stay on the coast, where there’s less housing available. 

“We still have a reserve of accommodation for people, but what’s happened is that people prefer individual houses, flats. We don’t have flats”, he stressed.

For the mayor, the lack of long-term rental housing in the region is an “atrocious” situation that affects not only refugees but also “everyone” looking for a house on the market.

According to Vítor Aleixo, the municipality still has space available in two places to accommodate eight people – four in Almancil and four in Salir – and is carrying out work in other places to increase the supply capacity.

Currently, eight families are housed in the shared accommodation provided by the municipality, for a total of 28 people, in the parishes of Almancil, Alte, Salir and Quarteira.