Europe

Closures on Iberian peninsula make life tough for cross-border workers

Since January 31, Portugal”s borders with Spain have been closed due to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cross-border workers are allowed to pass, but only eight border points are permanently open and seven more are only open for a few hours on weekdays.

The international bridge that connects Vila Nova de Cerveira and Tomiño – in the north of the Iberian Peninsula – is one of the closed crossing points.

At 400 metres long, the Friendship Bridge allows cross-border workers to reach their homes in just a few minutes. But with its closure, they now have to travel dozens more kilometres to cross one of the open border points and wait in a queue.

Carlos Simões is one of the thousands of workers affected. He lives in Galicia but works for a company based on the other side of the border, in Portugal’s Vila Nova de Cerveira.

“It used to take 5 or 6 minutes to make the trip between home and my workplace, because it’s only 5 or 6 kilometres. Now, I make 30 kilometres each way – it takes me almost an hour to do a one way trip – and another hour to get back. This means more expenses with the vehicle and stress.”

However, two trips a day is not all for Carlos. As a truck driver, he has to cross the border at least six times a day, and sometimes has to wait an hour in a queue.

The mayors of 26 Portuguese and Galician municipalities have protested against the closure, including Fernando Nogueira, the Mayor of Vila Nova de Cerveira Mayor.

“This closure of borders has had a dramatic impact on our municipalities, because, as is known, this border of only 70 kilometres has a huge movement, represents 50% or more of the traffic of goods and people between Portugal and Spain and therefore, between Portugal and Europe by land.”

Both Portuguese and Galician authorities have requested political and economic assistance from the European Commission. They say one of the pillars of the EU – Europe without Borders – is at stake.

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