Today, there are refugees living in 26 municipalities across the country, according to information provided to Lusa by the cabinet of the Minister of State and the Presidency. But since 2015, almost 100 municipalities have been involved in welcoming these people. The Portuguese government has said and repeated: the integration and reception of refugees is a priority, to which a “continuous effort” is dedicated, involving the central state, local authorities and civil society. Under various international programs, Portugal has already hosted close to three thousand refugees.
In the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), Portugal put on the agenda the new Pact for Migration and Asylum, proposed by the European Commission last September, but was unable to close the negotiations. The numbers are useful to show what has changed in Portugal in recent years: the 477 asylum requests registered in 2014 doubled in 2015 and, since then, in a regular increase (with the exception of 2018 and 2020), they have continued to stay above a thousand . The latest data, recently released by the Security and Borders Service (SEF), shows a decline, probably because of the pandemic. In 2020, 1,002 asylum requests were registered, a decrease of 34.5 percent compared to 2019 (with 1,849).
2018 was the year in which Portugal most awarded refugee status (286) and subsidiary protection (405), according to SEF data. In the last five years, the recognized cases have always been above a hundred, with the exception of 2020 – which, once again, can be explained by the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on migratory flows. But behind the numbers are people and life stories, which are proof of what has gone well and what could go better. Luck and expectations are factors to consider, as shown by the cases of Samir, Mahmud and Bilal, who arrived at the same time in Penela, which welcomed the first refugees under a protocol with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees ( UNHCR), in 2015.
Today, Samir no longer wants to leave Portugal, where their children are integrated and have “good grades” at school. Mahmud, who never felt well in Penela, is trying to move to Coimbra, where he runs a small supermarket. Bilal, whose youth bears the heavy responsibility of supporting the family with a minimum wage, dreams of emigrating to the United States. It's not that he wasn't treated well, but “the future is not easy” in Portugal, he predicts. Samir, Mahmud and Bilal are some of the refugees welcomed under the UNHCR Resettlement Program – which, according to data released in May by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, already totals 724 people, who arrived in Portugal from Egypt and Turkey but with different nationalities (Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia).
Portugal also receives refugees under the European Union (EU) relocation programs. It was in this way a woman made the risky boat crossing to Italy, with two small children and leaving her husband behind, who stayed in Libya, working, “to be able to pay for the trip”. The Nigerian refugee was received by Adolescere, an association in Braga that welcomes single-parent families and refugees. Carla Fernandes, president of Adolescere, explains that the aim of the association's work is to help the women it welcomes to design “a life project”. Among the EU programs currently underway, there is one aimed at the more than 5,000 children who were in refugee camps in Greece, of which Portugal proposed to receive 500.
According to data from Brussels released in May, Portugal was the 4th Member State that hosted more unaccompanied minors (there are already 100 in the country), after France, Germany and Finland. These minors, the overwhelming majority of whom are boys, generally between 14 and 17 years old, were taken in by various organizations in Lisbon and in the North of the country. Cláudia Sabença, technical director of the Specialized Reception Center of the Red Cross, which coordinates the program for minors, emphasises that the young people who are taken in “have their emotional charge”, but, like everyone else of the same age, “are at looking for a future”. Sofia Bento, a psychologist at the same centre, considers that “Portugal has made an effort” to better integrate refugees, but stresses that mastery of the language continues to be an obstacle. Coordinator of the mental health office of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS Portugal), Rosario Suárez agrees, stressing the importance of translators and interpreters in welcoming refugees, who generally arrive with “nightmares, ruminant thoughts, a lot of anguish”.
Ghalia Taki, a Syrian refugee who works for JRS as coordinator of the interpreter pool, points out that, since arriving in Portugal in 2014, things have evolved “a lot” and Portuguese institutions are now “more prepared” and “more open, they already have information about culture, people's differences”. Today, six years and ten months after arriving in Portugal, Ghalia can proudly display her citizenship card – she finally has Portuguese nationality.