Summary of the national legislation on refugees
Law 27/2008 of June 30 as amended by Law 26/2014 of May 5 establishes the legal framework for asylum, lays down the conditions and procedures for granting asylum or subsidiary protection and the statuses of asylum seeker, refugee and subsidiary protection, transposing the relevant EU directives into national law. In its use the laws must be interpreted in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention of July 28, 1951 and the additional Protocol of January 31,1967.
In article 3, the Law defines a refugee as a “foreign national or stateless person who, justifiably fearing persecution as a consequence of activities in the State of his or her nationality or usual residence in favor of democracy, social and national freedom, peace among peoples, liberty and human rights or by virtue of his or her race, religion, nationality, political convictions or belonging to a specific social group, is outside the country of nationality and cannot or, due to this fear, does not wish to avail of the protection of the said country or a stateless person who, being outside the country of his or her usual residence, for the same reasons, cannot or, due to the said fear, does not wish to return there.”
Article 7 of the same law also establishes the possibility of being granted a residence permit and subsidiary protection to “foreign nationals and stateless persons who are not subject to the provisions of Article 3 and who are prevented from or feel it is impossible for them to return to the country of their nationality or their usual residence, both due to the systematic violation of human rights occurring there as well as because they run the risk of suffering serious offenses.” The definition of serious offenses here includes the death penalty or execution; torture or inhuman or degrading penalties or treatment of the applicant in the applicant’s country of origin; or a serious threat against the life or physical integrity of the person in question, due to indiscriminate violence in situations of international or domestic armed conflict or the generalized and indiscriminate violation of human rights.
In accordance with article 9 the following persons fall outside of the scope of refugee: he/she who has “committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity, pursuant to the international instruments establishing provisions related to such crimes;” or he/she who has “committed an intentional general law crime punishable with a prison sentence of more than three years outside Portuguese territory, before being admitted as a refugee.”
Refugee life in Portugal
Integration in Practice
For the first 18 months upon their arrival refugees receive financial support and access to housing, education and healthcare.
During the first 6 months refugees are kept in reception centers. Within the first week after arrival an orientation class is delivered by the Portuguese Council for Refugees (CPR) including practical, historical and cultural information on Portugal. Enrollment of refugee children in public schools at basic and secondary level is also carried out immediately after arrival.
All adult resettled refugees attend 150 hours of mandatory intensive Portuguese language training while resident at the center. After leaving the center, refugees can access a further 150 hours of mainstream migrant language training courses under the national ‘Português para Todos’ programme. Supplementary language training provided by CPR at the reception center also remains available to resettled refugees following their departure. The CPR also provides legal and social support in the center, including financial assistance for food, transportation and other personal expenses, health and psychological care referrals and translation services.
A ‘life project’ or Personalised Integration Plan (PIP) is developed for each refugee during the first reception phase. The PIP intends to map professional skills and experience, academic background, language skills and the refugees’ own expectations of their resettlement. CPR’s Vocational Training and Employment Support Service (GIP) work in partnership with the Portuguese Institute of Employment and Professional Training (IEFP) to support refugees in areas such as academic equivalence procedures and referrals to vocational training or opportunities for voluntary work.
After six months of centralised reception, resettled refugees are moved to housing in municipalities. After departing the reception center, resettled refugees receive social security benefits to cover the costs of accommodation, food, transportation, education and healthcare. Social security payments are administered by the Institute of Social Security (ISS). The support provided to resettled refugees differs from mainstream social benefits in that it does not depend on prior social security contributions. Although welfare benefits received by resettled refugees are higher than average, they remain fairly limited in relation to housing costs and – despite the assistance of CPR and local social security services – finding affordable housing in the Lisbon area is challenging. Moreover, as a consequence of the economic crisis, social security services have systematically reduced the level of payment received by resettled refugees, as well budget lines allocated to both integration and mainstream support services.
Refugees subsequently tend to overstay in the reception center, leading to bottlenecks in the reception system. Due to the recent increase in the number of refugees in the country, the CPR was forced to decentralize its structure, meaning that during the first 6 months refugees can sent to various locations around the country, to homes provided by different municipalities. This one the one hand, has the advantage to reduce the waiting time for the reception of new arrivals, but on the other hand could mean that refugees are sent to more remote areas of Portugal, with less direct access to essential institutional structures.
Access to Health
Asylum seekers and their families receive medical assistance under the same conditions as nationals for the satisfaction of basic health needs and for primary and emergency health care. By law that access is free and includes diagnosis, treatment, and primary health care. Asylum seekers and refugees also benefit from the medical assistance provided by the health services in their area of residence, in the same conditions as nationals.
Primary health care includes:
- Disease prevention and health promotion and outpatient care,
- General clinic,
- Maternal-child care and family planning,
- School health services,
Support to Torture Victims
The Center for Support to Victims of Torture (CAVITOP) is a Non-Governmental Organization providing psychiatric and and psychological support to persons who have been victims of torture because of their political, ideological and moral views. The service is free and conducted by psychiatrists and psychologists, including individualized therapy and group therapy, depending on the needs of the patient.
When the CPR becomes aware of an asylum seeker or refugee who has suffered torture (of political or ideological origin), he or she will be referred to this service for counseling.
Access to Education
Asylum seekers have access to compulsory education as soon as they are granted a Provisional Residence Permit.
In order have access to the educational system, the recognition of the qualifications possessed by the applicant is necessary. The application for equivalence for admission to education is done by means of request accompanied by the Document Proof of Qualifications authenticated by the Embassy or Consulate of Portugal of the country of origin, or by the Embassy or Consulate Of the foreign country in Portugal, or with the apostle for countries that acceded to the Hague Convention of October 5, 1961.
The translation of this document may also be required. While this equivalence procedure is in progress, a conditional enrollment must be made at the school in the area of residence.
Exceptionally, for reasons of force majeure duly recognized (as in the case of asylum seekers), the document proving the educational qualifications may be replaced by a written declaration of the applicant’s parent, his / her substitute, or the applicant him/herself, when of legal age, that, under honor states to have the required qualifications.
By law, refugees and asylum seeker students should benefit from social assistance in education under the same conditions as nationals.
Access to Work and the Labour-market
In the absence of a specific legal regime for refugees in this matter, the legal regime for foreigners is applicable, with some exceptions (refugees resident in Portugal for more than three years, married to a Portuguese national or who have one or more children of Portuguese nationality).
The job search can be done in several ways. Job offers can be found in daily or weekly newspapers and some websites also offer a wide range of job offers. The Employment Centers of the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP) play an active role in the management of the Portuguese labor market. At the same time, private and non-governmental organizations are helping refugees, directly or indirectly, in finding jobs.
The IEFP Employment Centers are local organizational units that develop measures and programs to support the integration of workers. Those Centers have a database of job offers, communicated by employers. To apply for a job, people can go to any Job Center, but the candidate must be enrolled in the Job Center in their area of residence.
However, refugees face various difficulties in their insertion into the labor market. In Portugal, employers often ignore the problem of asylum, and don’t always recognize the validity of the Refugee Card or the Provisional Residence Authorization. Although the Provisional Residence Permit guarantees access to the labor market, it is also one of the main obstacles encountered by the beneficiaries in the search for employment, since they are required to renew it on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Another barrier to accessing the labor market is the language barrier. In this sense, it is important for asylum seekers to have available, immediately after their arrival, access to Portuguese language courses.
The legal process
Refugees arriving through a resettlement program have been considered on a dossier basis. Processing of resettlement dossiers is carried out by SEF, the Portuguese Aliens and Border Service, by law resettlement submissions must be shared with the Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR) for issuance of an advisory opinion on the integration needs of specific cases, to be communicated within 5 working days. To facilitate exit procedures, Portugal favors resettlement from countries where consular services are available. It also tends to favor families.
Refugees arriving at the border by their own means must present themselves to the authorities or to SEF within a deadline of 8 days from the moment of arrival. The SEF has 20 days to decide on the admissibility of the asylum claim and if the application is considered admissible a temporary residence permit will be issued until the final decision on the asylum request.This permit allows the bearer to work, to attend professional training courses, to study, to apply for a tax contributor card. Asylum seekers are equally entitled to free legal counselling and emergency social assistance.
After the analysis of the asylum claim refugees are granted a five-year residence permit, which is renewable unless prevented by cessation of refugee status, or concerns related to national security or public order.
Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status
A decision stipulating the refusal of refugee status results in the applicant being notified to abandon the country within a period of 20 days, if in an irregular situation. The asylum seeker may still appeal to the administrative courts, within a period of 8 days. Until the final decision he or she cannot be expelled or forcefully removed from the country.
If the decision issued refuses international protection, then the applicant may remain in national territory for a transitional period of no more than 30 days.
Non-compliance implies the that steps will be taken for the coercive removal or judicial expulsion of the person in question in accordance with the legal system governing the entry, stay, departure and removal of foreigners from national territory (Law 23/2007 of 4 July 2007). Should the person in question chose to return voluntarily to their country of origin the state will offer assistance by supporting their travel costs and providing a small amount allocated to expenses necessary for the return, such as temporary accommodation and medical assistance.
Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Portugal
According to conclusions of a Working Group of the CPR referring to the media coverage of refugees, at present, the situation shows that two different cases have to be taken into account with regard to press coverage:
The so-called yellow, sensationalist, distorted and incorrect press, where the means to achieve ends are not weighted, where public opinion is invited to wear prejudices, where the problem faced by asylum seekers, refugees, clandestine immigrants and foreigners in general is not differentiated.This is fueled by a group of journalists unobservant of deontological norms and unpunished by sanctions. It is also a situation perpetuated by the lack of quality demanded on the part of the public that feeds it;
Apart from the particular cases just described, the main media provides a more or less exhaustive and correct coverage, from an ethical and deontological point of view, of human rights issues and in particular the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. In practice, the coverage of relevant information has been unfortunately made on a one-time basis, without continuity of the issues. This tendency is however not general.
The media attention given to refugees has increased during the beginning of the refugee crisis, however, it has declined ever since due to a so-called “dictatorship of the new” (phrase used by some journalists) which has turned the attention into new topics and issues.
Reports and news on refugees in the mainstream media tend to focus on the hardships faced by refugees, although the refugees themselves tend to be presented in a neutral way. There is quite a lot of focus on the numbers regrading the refugee crisis in general and the people welcomed into the country and there is also some focus on the need and interest to welcome a greater number of refugees. According to a recent study public opinion is also open to this idea, even more so than to receive economic migrants.
Follow-up on the refugee crisis
Between January and June 2016 (the latest available official data), 769 applications for asylum were submitted to Portugal.
Of those 452 asylum seekers arrived through the National Resettlement Programme, from Greece (302) and Italy (150), with the biggest representation coming from Syria and Eritrea. In addition, 12 refugees of Syrian origin have been reinstalled from Turkey. It’s relevant to mention that Portugal has agreed to resettle over 4500 refugees by September 2017.
The remaining 305 asylum requests were spontaneous applications. Those applications corresponded to 46 different nationalities, with the biggest number of requests coming from Ukraine (53 applications), Democratic Republic of Congo (32 applications), Guinea (29 applications) and Pakistan (21 applications). Of these, 209 were man (69% of the total number of applications) and 96 were women (31%). During the period there were also registered 22 asylum applications by unaccompanied minors.
This shows a decrease of 35% when comparing with the same period 2015, during which 474 sppontaneous applications were submitted.
The refugees received so far have been spread across 66 municipalities in the country. According to an interview by Diario de Noticias to Deputy Minister Eduardo Cabrita in August 2016 “the pace of arrivals has been more regular and intense in recent months, compared to the start of the relocation program. It is anticipated that a further 92 people will arrive, referenced by Caritas in Greece”.
Portugal is the 4th country in the EU to have resettled the highest number of refugees, however about 20% of all refugees welcomed in the country ended up leaving, most of them to Germany.
The subjective perspective
There are both good practices and negative ones in the approach the country has taken to welcoming refugees. The NGO involvement in the planning and implementation of reception and integration services, and the provision of support at the start of the integration programs are both to my view good practices that should continue to be followed. This together with a broad general support for resettlement can assist with the welcoming and integration of refugees in the country.
On the other hand, Portugal does not have a tradition of welcoming refugees and see itself struggling with the increased numbers; the delays and challenges in the transfer or resettled refugees results in late and concentrated arrivals over a short period of time; the lack of structures that may continuously assist refugees at the end of the integration period implies that a number of them will always feel forced to abandon the country. There is a need to improve the existing support structures and provide more financial support to NGOs and other institutions so that these may better conduct their work.