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Fruit pickers lured to Portugal by the dream of a ‘raspberry passport’ | Global development

Three days after Sagar* arrived as a worker in Portugal from Nepal, he began to worry he had made a terrible mistake. “I had expectations to get good work, good money,” he says. “But the reality was different.”

The only job Sagar, 21, could find was on one of the country’s berry farms in Odemira, a rural region on the south-west coast. Earning less than the legal minimum wage to work 16-hour days in 40C heat, he knows he is being exploited. But quitting could jeopardise his residency application – and that’s a risk he cannot afford to take.

Sagar is one of more than 10,000 young men and women who have left their home countries to find work in Portugal’s £200m berry industry, picking fruit that will be sold in supermarkets across Europe.

They are drawn to Portugal and the heart of Europe’s soft fruits industry by the dream of what many refer to as a “raspberry passport”.

Migrant workers describe exploitative working conditions on fruit farms in Odemira, Portugal.
Migrant workers describe exploitative working conditions on fruit farms. Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

That’s because whether or not they entered Europe legally, upon arrival in Portugal, foreigners of any nationality can apply for temporary residency, as long as they have a work contract and can prove they are paying taxes in the country. Workers interviewed by the Guardian got jobs on farms through intermediary agencies without the need to prove they were yet a legal resident.

Once a worker has acquired temporary residency they can then begin a five-year countdown to citizenship – and a much-longed for Portuguese passport. “It’s the colour of a raspberry, about to fall from the tree,” says Sagar. “The passport is the one big dream. It’s your life changer.”

In the meantime, many overseas workers endure what they describe as exploitative conditions, fearful that changing jobs will nullify their residency application.

“Everyone is very scared,” says Sagar. “Your taxes are connected with your work, and your papers are connected with your taxes. And if you lose one, you lose the other.”


Sagar is halfway there. In just under three years, he will be legally entitled to a Portuguese passport, enabling him to live and work freely across the EU.

The desperation for a passport leaves thousands of foreign workers in conditions akin to labour bondage, says Alexandra Pereira, a researcher at the University of Lisbon, specialising in Nepali migration to Portugal. “They feel trapped, not only by the legal procedures but also the loans they got to come here and the money they have to pay to the people who brought them,” she says. “It keeps them in this cycle of exploitation.”

Berry pickers interviewed by the Guardian describe paying smugglers up to €18,000 (£15,000) to facilitate their entry into the EU. Rahul*, 28, took a precarious route across Serbia that saw him wading through rivers up to his neck. “I didn’t know if I would die on the way,” he says. “Nobody knows who I am, where I’m from. It’s a very, very difficult journey.”

After risking his life to get there, Odemira proved a crushing disappointment. “I don’t know anybody here who cares for me,” Rahul says, suddenly tearful. He would return to India in an instant, but he owes €7,000 to his smuggler, and his parents sold their home to cover the rest of the costs. They’re relying on him to send money home. “My heart is broken. I’m missing my girlfriend, missing my mother and father. I have nothing to show them.”

How long the process will take him is impossible to predict. Out of 40 migrant workers interviewed, one in four were still awaiting temporary residency, despite some filing their initial requests in early 2019.

One 25-year-old woman says she filed her residency application to Portugal’s foreigners and borders service in 2019 but was told in June that her application no longer existed. She has had to postpone her wedding in India twice. If she leaves the country, her application is nullified. “For three years [my fiance] has been waiting for me. We have dreams for our marriage, for everything … but everything is spoiled.”

Last year, the Portuguese government confirmed plans to shutter the service, but when this will happen remains uncertain. “The concern is that a large number of migrants may be stuck in a limbo until the new service starts working,” says the high commissioner for migration, Sónia Pereira. “It’s a cause of great anxiety.”

Without permanent residency, the berry pickers worry the smallest misstep could threaten their futures. “We can’t complain,” says one man from India, who says he sometimes works for up to 11 hours a day with less than an hour’s break. “When there is no work, what will you eat? What will you drink? Nothing.”

Berry pickers wait for their bus to work in the early morning.
Berry pickers wait for their bus to work in the early hours of Saturday morning. (None of the workers photographed here were interviewed.) Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

Sintab, a Portuguese labour union, has only managed to unionise 12 migrant workers in the region. “The rest of them were afraid to talk to us and then suffer reprisals,” says a former union employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

In June 2018, a group of berry pickers in Odemira staged a protest about working conditions and lost their jobs, according to farmworkers. “Afterwards, everyone was scared,” says Sagar. “So the rest, who were thinking to protest, keep on doing the work and following the others, and the same pattern [of exploitation] keeps going on.”

Fearful that their employers are watching their comings and goings, interviews with the Guardian take place after dark, as workers scout the streets to make sure nobody can see who is entering their homes. Crammed into small cottages by the dozen, they reveal bare mattresses on kitchen floors and bunks in draughty garages. In winter, temperatures at night can drop to sub-zero degrees. One worker says his bunk bed is infested with fleas.

Others sleep in converted shipping containers and pre-fabricated dormitories on the farms. One young woman from Nepal shares a room with up to 10 others, metres from her employer’s office on a farm. Sometimes, she doesn’t leave the property for weeks at a time, she says. “They have almost no access to the outside world while they’re there,” says Aashima Budal, a PhD candidate at the University of Stavanger. “They often compare themselves to animals.”

The workers’ arrival in Odemira has boosted a declining population and brought business to the quiet, rural community. Yet rights groups say support for the region’s newest residents remains inadequate. Earlier this year, videos surfaced of military police violence against the migrant community in Odemira in 2018 and 2019. In one instance, footage shows several officers forcing one young man to inhale a breathalyser filled with pepper gas.

A single portable toilet in a field
Workers on some farms say they can walk for up to 15 minutes to reach the nearest toilet. Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

Sagar alleges that a police officer stopped him in the street and assaulted him in 2018. “He slapped me in my chest,” he says, miming someone pushing him with the heels of their hands. “Two times, he slapped me like that … It’s the worst experience I’ve had in this country.” He didn’t report the incident. “I didn’t have the courage,” he says.

Portugal’s national guard told the Guardian it has a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and that personnel involved in the incidents filmed in 2018 and 2019 have been suspended from duty during ongoing disciplinary proceedings. It has also organised awareness-raising training on human rights issues, including racism.

The main public health centre in Odemira is also struggling to keep up with the growing population, says one senior employee, claiming language barriers and a lack of resources compromises the standard of services they’re able to provide to those working on the berry farms. “If you ask me … Is the care being given in an adequate manner [to the workers]? No.”

Scared that any medical complaints could also affect their employability, the berry pickers say they often avoid seeking treatment for pre-existing conditions and injuries suffered at work. “If I go to the health centre, they will ask me so many questions,” says one man, who revealed infected cuts on his hands. “They can ask me about my card, my residency, so many papers. I want to avoid all the problems.”

Everyone in Portugal has the right to healthcare, regardless of their residency status, says a spokesperson for the department of health, adding that the Odemira health centre has a 24/7 emergency unit and an interpreter available once a week.

The Portuguese foreigners and borders service told the Guardian it was monitoring the situation in Odemira and that improving public service and speeding up the residency process are priority issues.

For Sagar, life in Portugal has become an endurance exercise. After his seventh hour in the berry fields, his thoughts shift to home – and whether he will ever be able to afford the 8,000 km (5,000 mile) journey back to Nepal.

“Maybe by the end of 2025, I will apply for the passport,” he says. “I just hope maybe I could get one, finally. And something will change after that … I will leave this place and go somewhere else and start a new life.”

* Names have been changed to protect identity

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Witness in Pegasus case accuses Peña Nieto of ordering spying operation on Carlos Slim | International

The Pegasus case has finally gone to trial in Mexico. On Monday, the court heard testimony from Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was allegedly spied on during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Aristegui was the first witness called by the Prosecutor’s Office in a trial that could go on for months.

The Pegasus case is one of the biggest scandals to hit Mexico. It centers on the powerful spyware called Pegasus, which was developed by the Israeli company NSO Group and is only available to government agencies. Pegasus can take control of a cellphone without its owner noticing and, in addition to accessing all its contents, it can also turn it into a listening and image capture terminal.

The Pegasus case in Mexico involves potentially thousands of victims and various government administrations. Speaking in court on Monday, Aristegui demanded that those responsible be held accountable. “I hope that the Attorney General’s Office has enough elements to clarify the case,” she said, according to the Mexican newspaper Reforma.

The prosecutor’s star witness, a whistleblower with the code named Zeus, also appeared in court on Monday. They accused Peña Nieto and his direct subordinates of ordering the alleged spying operation against Aristegui, and other key figures such as business magnate Carlos Slim and mining mogul Germán Larrea.

The trial is just one part of the sprawling Pegaus case; the Prosecutor’s Office (FGR) is also investigating the alleged fraudulent purchase of the spyware during the last administration. But the probe has yet to reach court, which has angered the FGR. In May, the agency reported that it had requested the trial start three times, but with no success.

The scandal also goes beyond the Peña years. During the current administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, government agencies also acquired the spyware. According to an investigation by the Digital Rights Defense Network released at the end of last year, the armed forces acquired Pegasus in 2019, and spied on at least three people, including journalist Ricardo Raphael and human rights defender Raymundo Ramos.

But the case first broke out when Peña Nieto was still in office. It sparked widespread outrage, with the public questioning whether the country’s security agencies were being used to spy on journalists and activists.

Aristegui was one of the few to take the case to court. During Peña Nieto’s early years, the reporter and her investigative team had tracked corruption among the president and his entourage. At the end of 2014, the team published a report on the president’s relationship with one of his government’s favorite business conglomerates, Grupo Higa. Peña Nieto and his family owned a house in an upmarket neighborhood in the capital, which was actually registered in the name of Group Higa, and enjoyed the protection of the army.

It was a huge blow to Peña Nieto’s image, which was already floundering in the wake of the military executions of civilians in Tlatlaya and the disappearance of dozens of students from Ayotzinapa. It was at this time that Aristegui’s phone was targeted by Pegasus. The investigative journalist, who created her own news network, reported on the espionage. During this time, she received thousands of documents from a source about the surveillance carried out by the Peña Nieto administration. That source was Zeus, the star witness of the Pegasus case. The information provided by Zeus indicated that the espionage campaign had been carried out by a subsidiary of one of the suppliers of Pegasus in Mexico, the KBH business group.

Aristegui handed over this information to the FGR, which in 2021 arrested the alleged operator of the spyware, Juan Carlos García Rivera, a worker at a KBH subsidiary. His arrest raised a number of questions. If NSO Group only sold to governments, how was it possible that Aristegui had been spied on by a private firm? Is NSO Group lying? Or was the Mexican government outsourcing a compromising part of its operations? According to Zeus, the former is most likely to be true.

The FGR is calling for García Rivera to be sentenced to 16 years in prison for illegal phone tapping. Prosecutors offered him a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty, but he refused. It is not known how long the trial will last, but the number of witnesses and evidence that must be presented before the judge, in addition to the upcoming holiday season, may delay the process for months.

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Israel orders new evacuations and advances with tanks in southern Gaza

Israel calls them blocks 36, 38 to 54 and 219 to 221. These are the areas of Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Yunis, which dozens of Israeli tanks are approaching on Monday, that the army is urging civilians to evacuate, forcing them to move to other areas also targeted by Israeli bombardments. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has disseminated, with leaflets falling from the sky and via text messages, a map with three yellow arrows in the direction of another southern city, Rafah, and the Mediterranean coast. But very few are following the map. Under the constant sound of airstrikes and gunfire, the population feels that there is no safe place in Gaza, and each evacuation is only a prelude to the next.

The Israeli text message links to another map (with hundreds of boxes and in which the Khan Yunis blocks appear) to be consulted through a cell phone with a QR code, in an enclave without any type of internet connection and with frequent telecommunications outages. The IDF began disseminating these maps last Friday, when the week-long truce between Israel and Hamas came to an end and Israel launched its military campaign in southern Gaza. Cities in the south currently hold 1.8 million of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million after the Israeli military campaign forcibly displaced millions of people from their homes in northern Gaza, which now lies in ruins.

Khan Yunis, whose population is estimated to have grown from 200,000 to 400,000 due to the internal displacement caused by the war, has become one of the main targets of Israeli bombardment. The army has partially declared it a “dangerous combat zone.” The IDF has destroyed numerous buildings in Hamad City, a residential project of more than 1,000 properties where displaced persons from other parts of the Strip sought refuge. According to residents quoted by Agence France Presse, they were warned of the bombing an hour in advance.

Qatar — today a key mediator in the conflict between Israel and Hamas and a key financier of Gaza over the years — built Hamad City to rehouse destitute Palestinians who had lost their homes in the 2014 Israeli offensive, the most lethal until the one triggered by the Hamas attack on October 7. In 2014, some 2,300 Palestinians were killed. In the past two months of the war in Gaza, 15,899 people have been killed, 70% of them children and women, according to data released Monday by the Gazan Health Ministry.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, December 4, 2023
Several people in the rubble after an attack on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, this Monday. STAFF (REUTERS)

Israel has set itself the goal of politically and militarily destroying Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza. It foresees a long war lasting at least another two months, followed by regime change, permanent security control by Israel and the establishment of a security buffer zone. To achieve this, for Israel it is not enough to have taken over the capital and the rest of northern Gaza; it considers it essential to also penetrate the urban centers in the south, such as Khan Yunis. Considered a Hamas fiefdom, the city has an added symbolic component: it is the birthplace of Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Islamist party-militia and Israel’s most wanted man. He is presumed to be hiding underground and without access to electronic devices that can be traced by intelligence services.

“Our Munich”

The targets are not limited to Gaza. Israel intends to emulate with Hamas the assassination campaign — brought to fiction by Steven Spielberg — conducted by the Mossad in different parts of the world after the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This campaign was originally meant to last 20 years.

This past Sunday, Israeli public television broadcast a recording in which Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet (the secret services in Israel and Palestine), is heard assuring that his country is determined to kill all Hamas leaders “in every location, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar, everywhere.” “It will take a few years, but we will be there in order to do it,” he is heard adding. “The cabinet set a goal for us, to take out Hamas. And we are determined to do it, this is our Munich.”

Another goal is the return of the hostages taken by Hamas. Although negotiations continue behind the scenes, there is a feeling that the return of hostilities has put the issue even further on the back burner, despite the fact that 137 hostages (115 men, 20 women and two children) are still in Gaza. Fifteen of them, both soldiers and civilians, have been declared dead, following the release of hostages who have returned with information confirming their deaths. It does not mean that they were killed there by Hamas or died in Israeli bombardments, as they could have been killed in the October 7 attack and then taken to Gaza.

This Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has again insisted that the military advance does not clash with efforts to free the abductees, but quite the contrary: it pushes Hamas to negotiate their exchange for Palestinian prisoners. “Over the past two months, I’ve been working single-mindedly to achieve the aims of this war — to destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and to bring the hostages home,” Gallant said in a meeting with representatives of the families. “And these two goals are tightly linked. Every day is crucial.”

A day earlier, thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv to call on the government to work to bring back the remaining hostages who are still in Gaza. The protest was marked by two slogans — “Everyone!” and “Now!” — and included for the first time the participation of former hostages. Later on, a smaller group of protesters charged against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatening to launch a sit-in if the Israeli war cabinet does not receive them to explain what they are doing to bring their loved ones back.

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Open Source Software (OSS) Supply Chain, Security Risks And Countermeasures

OSS Security Risks And Countermeasures

The software development landscape increasingly hinges on open source components, significantly aiding continuous integration, DevOps practices, and daily updates. Last year, Synopsys discovered that 97% of codebases in 2022 incorporated open source, with specific sectors like computer hardware, cybersecurity, energy, and the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 100% OSS integration.

While leveraging open source enhances efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and developer productivity, it inadvertently paves a path for threat actors seeking to exploit the software supply chain. Enterprises often lack visibility into their software contents due to complex involvement from multiple sources, raising concerns highlighted in VMware’s report last year. Issues include reliance on communities to patch vulnerabilities and associated security risks.

Raza Qadri, founder of Vibertron Technologies, emphasizes OSS’s pivotal role in critical infrastructure but underscores the shock experienced by developers and executives regarding their applications’ OSS contribution. Notably, Qadri cites that 95% of vulnerabilities surface in “transitive main dependencies,” indirectly added open source packages.

Qadri also acknowledges developers’ long-standing use of open source. However, recent years have witnessed heightened awareness, not just among developers but also among attackers. Malware attacks targeting the software supply chain have surged, as demonstrated in significant breaches like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and the Log4j exploit.

Log4j’s widespread use exemplifies the consolidation of risk linked to extensively employed components. This popular Java-based logging tool’s vulnerabilities showcase the systemic dependency on widely used software components, posing significant threats if exploited by attackers.

Moreover, injection of malware into repositories like GitHub, PyPI, and NPM has emerged as a growing threat. Cybercriminals generate malicious versions of popular code to deceive developers, exploiting vulnerabilities when components are downloaded, often without the developers’ knowledge.

Despite OSS’s security risks, its transparency and visibility compared to commercial software offer certain advantages. Qadri points out the swift response to Log4j vulnerabilities as an example, highlighting OSS’s collaborative nature.

Efforts to fortify software supply chain security are underway, buoyed by multi-vendor frameworks, vulnerability tracking tools, and cybersecurity products. However, additional steps, such as enforcing recalls for defective OSS components and implementing component-level firewalls akin to packet-level firewalls, are necessary to fortify defenses and mitigate malicious attacks.

Qadri underscores the need for a holistic approach involving software bills of materials (SBOMs) coupled with firewall-like capabilities to ensure a comprehensive understanding of software contents and preemptive measures against malicious threats.

As the software supply chain faces ongoing vulnerabilities and attacks, concerted efforts are imperative to bolster security measures, safeguard against threats, and fortify the foundational aspects of open source components.

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