Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Portugal : Azoreans and Madeirans

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Portugal : Azoreans and Madeirans, 2008, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The population of the Azores was 241,763 in 2002. The population of Madeira was 245,000 in 2001. Only two islands in the Madeira group are inhabited, Madeira Grande and Porto Santo. Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the nine islands of the Azores. All nine islands are inhabited.

Tourism, farming and agri-business are the main sources of employment in Madeira. Most Azoreans work in service industries, especially tourism, but 33 per cent work in agriculture. Most farms are small and farmers tend to be in older age groups.

Historical context

Madeira and the Azores were discovered in 1419 and 1427 respectively. Both archipelagos were uninhabited.

Madeira was settled in 1433 by people from the Algarve and Minho. Agriculture was irrigated in Madeira from the sixteenth century. Tropical fruits, wine, sugar, honey, corn and wheat were supplied to mainland Portugal. In the nineteenth century Madeirans emigrated to South Africa and Venezuela, and in the latter half of the twentieth century to other countries of the European Union. The Madeiran diaspora outnumbers the island population by around 3:1. The first tourist hotel was opened in Madeira in 1894. Tourism increased after the opening of the airport in 1963.

The Azores were settled from 1439 by people from the Algarve and Alentejo to service Portuguese shipping. The Portuguese were joined later by Flemish, French, Spaniards, Indians, Jews, Moorish prisoners and African slaves. In the nineteenth century many Azoreans emigrated to North America, where they now outnumber the population of the islands by around 4:1. In the twentieth century some returned to live in the Azores.

The 1976 post-revolutionary constitution created regional governments in the islands and a measure of autonomy over local affairs. Islanders are also represented in the national parliament in Lisbon. Local politicians have continued to press for greater autonomy.

In 1988 Madeira set itself up as a low tax centre for international business with an industrial free trade zone, financial services, international services and an international shipping register. The number of companies operating in the Madeira International Business Centre rose from seven in 1988 to 3,230 in 1998, with the creation of over 2,000 jobs. As the EU and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tightened up on tax havens, Madeira introduced new rules of transparency in 2004, which gained the approval of these two bodies.

Current issues

Agriculture and tourism do not provide enough income for the rural population of the Azores or Madeira and islanders continue to emigrate, some on a seasonal basis. Remittances are important, especially in the Azores.

Madeira has a more established tourist industry and a greater range of agricultural products, including the famed Madeira wine. Its low-tax international business centre and its international shipping register have diversified the economy. Local skills are provided by the Scientific and Technical Centre and the University of Madeira. The revamped Madeira International Business Centre has approval of the EU Commission to offer tax concessions to companies setting up there, provided they create new jobs.

Both regions have promoted the use of IT and e-business, Madeira more successfully. The Azores has a university and technical centre, but the region's remoteness has held back the economy.

Agriculture and other areas of the economy in Madeira and the Azores benefit from European Union structural funds for less developed regions.

The Azores government has implemented regional development plans aimed at strengthening infrastructure, local skills, businesses, cooperatives and non-profit associations, modernizing production, and providing social programmes for vulnerable sections of the population, including returning migrants.

The US Department of Agriculture is providing a technical assistance programme in 2003 to 2008 to strengthen the economic and social development of the Azores. The programme aims to improve environmental strategies and practice. It forms part of a wider cooperation agreement with the government covering agriculture, education, environment, tourism and cultural exchange, civil protection, social security and health.

Azorean communities in Canada and the USA produce their own newspapers and radio programmes.

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