LISBON AND MADRID — The four-bedroom apartment smells freshly painted, but it’s been almost eight months since its future residents were supposed to arrive.
Touched by the images of thousands of refugee families left without homes while escaping their war-torn countries, nun Laurinda Faria and the other Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Portugal decided to give away empty apartments to help. The three remain empty, waiting for the refugees to come.
Standing in the almost fully equipped kitchen of one apartment in Cacém, a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, the nun looks apologetically at the neatly tiled floor, the refurbished doors with no signs of dust, and bewails the fact there’s still no fridge, bed, or bathroom linens.
“We spent nearly 3,500 euros ($3,900) tidying up this place. The only reason why it’s not totally ready right now is because we grew tired of being ready. We’ll keep on waiting,” she says, adding that it’s frustrating to be eager to help Europe’s refugees – but not able to get that help to the families who need it.
Those empty apartments are emblematic of the refugee situation in both Portugal and neighboring Spain. Despite tough economies and high unemployment, citizens of both countries say they want to help the refugees fleeing Mideast violence for Europe. A recent BBC World Service poll found Spain to be the most welcoming of all countries, with 84 percent of the population agreeing to take in Syrian refugees. The current mood in those two countries, those interviewed say, can best be described as wondering where the refugees are, after a year of waiting.