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Return mobilities to rural Portugal: an assessment of the production of place

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MigRural (Return mobilities to rural Portugal: an assessment of the production of place)

Período documentado: 2018-09-01 hasta 2020-08-31

(Please note that this summary has been prepared together with Friederike Endress, Cordis)

Portugal’s emigration rate is among the highest in the EU, with one in five Portuguese living abroad. While this demographic loss has left its mark on rural Portugal, an opposite movement is underway: the return of emigrants to villages and remote areas. How can we best harness the contributions of those who come back or wish to return? The EU-funded MigRural project has provided us with new tools for supporting returnees with a view to strengthening the local fabric and supporting the economy. Undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, it looked at impacts at the family, village and regional levels to improve our understanding of these dynamics.
"1) Lectures in conferences and workshop:
Desille, A. & Nikielska-Sekula, K. (2020, July). Visual Methods in Migration Studies: new possibilities, theoretical implications, and ethical questions. IMISCOE annual conference (online).
Desille, A. (2020, February). Emigration, return and place-making in rural Portugal. Paper presented at CEU PhD workshop, Budapest.
Desille, A. (2019, August). Return mobilities and home-making in rural Portugal. Paper presented at RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London.

2) Publications related to MigRural in open access:
Nikielska-Sekula, K. & Desille, A. (2021). Visual Methods in Migration Studies: New Possibilities, Theoretical Implications, and Ethical Questions. Winner of the IMISCOE book competition 2019. UK: Springer. Available at:
Desille, A. (2019). En été, le Portugal rural met l’immigration à l’honneur. Camigri newsletter 4. Poitiers. Available at:
Desille, A., Buhr, F. and Nikielska-Sekula, K. (2019). Visual Methods in Migration Studies: New Possibilities, Theoretical Implications, and Ethical Questions. CrossMigration’s briefs on Methodological, Ethical and Epistemological Issues n. 1. Available at:

3) Other forthcoming outcomes:
The film ""Je suis partout et nulle part à la fois"" make is currently in editing. First screening on 29 April 2021 in ISCTE.
Special issue accepted (currently in edition): Desille, A., Pinho, F. & Azevedo, L. (2022). Migração de Regresso para Portugal: Revisitar o passado, compreender o presente. Cidades, Comunidades e Territórios.

4) Four other publications were published during the lifespan of MigRural. Even though they do not directly relate to return migrations to Portugal, I do believe that the time and reflection I was given through MigRural enabled me to develop more in-depth concepts related to de-colonising knowledge, and institutionally-led return migrations. Hence I have mentioned MigRural funding in those publications:
Desille, A. & Sa’di-Ibraheem, Y. (2021). ‘It’s a matter of life or death’: Jewish migration and dispossession of Palestinians in Acre (Israel). Urban planning.
And three articles in the special issue I co-edited: Le Petitcorps, C. & Desille, A. (2020). La colonialité du pouvoir en migration(s). Migrations Société."
(Please note that this summary has been prepared together with Friederike Endress, Cordis)

“Emigration still plays a big role in family life. There are many different trajectories, but movement between several countries is the rule,” says Amandine Desille, Marie Curie Fellow at the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning of the University of Lisbon and MigRural project coordinator. Focusing her research on the Trás-os-Montes region near the Spanish border, she collected testimonies from 21 different local families.

One of her most striking observations is that it is not only retirees who return to the villages. “While they form a majority, there are also younger people who come back, often to set up their own business,” Desille explains. “For instance, I met with returnees who opened a restaurant, a marketplace for farmers, a taxi company, or rural accommodation.”
Another important finding is that retirees are active participants, too. “They are involved in agriculture, refurbish their houses, manage rentals, and are active in local committees,” Desille explains. During the holiday season, visiting family members give an additional boost to local life and the economy which is felt beyond the village level across the whole region.

Desille notes that while public support for returns exists, it does not always match the needs of potential returnees.
Programa Regressar, a large-scale government scheme put in place in 2019 to financially support returns, only opened up in January 2021 to those who wish to launch or invest in a local business.
There is also a communication gap, especially when it comes to reaching out to returnees of retirement age. While a network of helpdesks for emigrants (called GAE) has been created, there is little information about these services available locally.
Targeted support is key, she says: “There is a lot we can do to make returns easier, especially for younger people and those who are willing to invest and participate in the local economy.”

Desille has observed a number of trends which have fostered the emergence of a new regional narrative. Different transport infrastructure developments in this border region have created a new sense of openness and opportunity with a European outlook. This perspective is echoed in the way the region’s history of emigration is addressed today: “A new narrative – of adventure, freedom and courage – now defines the clandestine emigration that occured during the dictatorship,” Desille explains.

She hopes to further investigate the links between migrant heritage, diversity and the impact on local communities in her next research project.
A village in Trás-os-Montes