Portugal no haven for refugees, despite efforts

After Portugal doubled its relocation quota in 2015, it gained the reputation of a country that welcomes refugees with open arms. But the practicalities of integration are proving more troublesome than expected.

Catia Bruno
Catia Bruno NewsMavens, Portugal
Source: Publico
Portugal no haven for refugees, despite efforts - NewsMavens
Women refugees from Syria at a clinic in Jordan. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Under the 2015 EU emergency relocation scheme, Portugal had to take in 1,600 refugees from Italy and Greece. The following year, the Portuguese government made international news when it went against the tide in Europe and said it was willing to welcome up to 10,000 refugees.

The formal pledge was 5,000 -- lower than initial claims, but still much more than requested, leading many to dub the Portuguese PM, António Costa, Orbán's opposite.

Three years later, the process has been moving very slowly and the picture is not as bright as it initially seemed.

Since the end of 2015, only around 1,500 refugees arrived in Portugal and half of those have left the country in the meantime. The government recognizes several issues: the relocation process is slow, there are no local Syrian or Iraqi communities to help with integration, and out of the 15 family reunion requests filed since 2015, at least 10 are still being processed.

Despite these issues, Portugal continues to claim to be "on the right side of History". Meanwhile, there is insufficient media coverage of integration problems for the few who made it here and plan on staying.

Details from the story:

  • According to the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), on average, each refugee filing for a family reunion has to wait 5 months for a decision. The requests are analyzed in chronological order.
  • However, prior to their requests, most refugees wait for months to either obtain residency permits or simply start the application process. Just like Tamam Al-Najjar, who arrived in March 2016 and can only start the family reunion process now.
  • At least one family waited 10 months between the first member getting a residency authorization and the beginning of the reunion application for the rest of the family, due to problems with their documents.
  • Applicants must fill out paperwork for each individual family member. Official verification is often problematic, with authorities claiming that the documents presented are not sufficient or cannot be authenticated.
  • André Costa Jorge, from the Jesuit Refugee Service, claims there are reports of misconducts by officials who handle the requests. For instance, refugees have been asked if they are employed, which is not mandatory to be eligible for a family reunion.
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