Exploratory case study of Nepalese people who use drugs attending a harm reduction center in Lisbon.

Author: Patrícia Pestana, Maria Luísa Salazar, Juliana Salvador, Maddalena Lovat, Ângela Leite, Prawal Shrestma, Adriana Curado

Theme: Social Science & Policy Research Year: 2023

A recent increase in the migration from South Asia has led a harm reduction center in Lisbon to develop strategies to engage this community. Building on the connection to a group of Nepalese People Who Use Drugs (PWUD), this study aims to explore their experiences at the intersection of migration, drug use and access to healthcare.

This study followed an exploratory case study design. Semi-structured interviews with Nepalese PWUD were carried out between August and September 2022 to characterize their socio-demographic profile, migration process, access to services, and drug use. Based on the results of the interviews, a focus group was held in March 2023 to address the difficulties faced in the migration pathway and in the arrival to Lisbon. Additionally, the experience of drug use in Nepal versus Portugal was explored as well as situations of discrimination participants may encounter because of their drug use and migrant status.

Study participants are men, aged between 23 and 41, most unstably housed and unemployed. The majority has previously been in another European country, and what seems to motivate them to come to Portugal is the perception of a faster and easier regularization process. However, after arriving in Lisbon, participants report difficulties in integration because of the language and discrimination in accessing the labour market. In terms of drug use, participants describe a completely different scenario in Portugal, both in terms of the drugs used, services available and level of repression.

Although Nepalese PWUD demonstrate knowledge of the regularization process in Portugal and the formal way to access services, it was not clear that in practice they actually succeed, as numerous barriers and discrimination seem to affect the integration process. Harm reduction can play a very important role as a gateway to other services and in empowering communities.

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