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Displaced

Portuguese institutions are better prepared now’ – Ghalia Taki, Syrian refugee

When Mustafa decided to flee Iraq five years ago and reached Portugal – via Syria, Turkey, and Greece – he was convinced to get asylum quickly. What he didn’t know was that the country was – at that time – ill-prepared in taking care of refugees, especially from the Middle East. Living conditions were poor, asylum procedures slow, and recognition of diplomas problematic. Most refugees felt utterly lost and fled the country in search of greener pastures up north.


Since then a lot has changed for the better. Portugal has positioned itself at the forefront of welcoming refugees and already hosted – under various international programs – nearly 3000 refugees, living in 26 municipalities across the country.

The government of António Costa repeatedly states that ‘the welcoming and integration of refugees is a priority, to which a continuous effort is dedicated, involving national and local authorities, private entities and civil society.’

Now, five years later, Samir – who arrived at the same time as Mustafa under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement program – no longer wants to leave the country, where his children are integrated and show excellent grades in school.

Besides via the UNHCR, the country also receives refugees under EU Relocation programs. One of them is aimed at the more than 5,000 unaccompanied minors stuck in refugee camps in Greece of which already 121 have been accepted by Portugal.

The country is currently the 4th EU member state that takes in the most unaccompanied minors, after France, Germany, and Finland. These adolescents – mostly boys between 14 and 17 years old – are initially being housed in temporary shelters in Lisbon and the northern and central regions.

Cláudia Sabença, director of the Specialized Reception Centre at the Red Cross – which coordinates the unaccompanied minors program – emphasizes that these youngsters have serious emotional problems (nightmares, anxiety) and that insufficient mastery of the Portuguese language complicates a smooth integration.

The Government also provides support in the event of Emergency Rescue operations at sea and has hosted so far 243 people saved from the Mediterranean.

The fact that the country is willing to receive over 400 Afghan refugees – above all women, children, activists, and journalists – is one more sign of its hospitality.

‘Portuguese institutions are better prepared now and have more information about culture and people’s needs”, says Ghalia Taki, a Syrian refugee, who works as an interpreter and recently obtained the Portuguese nationality, albeit six years and ten months after arriving in the country.

Stay healthy                Fique saudável            (pic Público/Lusolobo)











Residents

Portuguese citizenship is hot. The latest report by the borders agency SEF shows that last year more than 74,000 foreigners applied for Portuguese nationality. For the first time in history, the country’s foreign resident population exceeds half a million people (5% of the total population).

Most requests for citizenship are related to naturalization and reunion. Foreigners who acquired citizenship in 2019 came from Brazil (23.000), Israel (18.500), Cape Verde (6500), Angola (3000), Ukraine (2500), Guinea-Bissau (2500), and Turkey (1500).

Brazilians remain the largest foreign resident community in Portugal (with 150.000, representing 26% of last year’s total), followed by Cape Verdeans, Brits, Romanians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Italians, French, and Angolans.

Last year also saw a notable increase in the number of Indians and Nepalese coming for work. There are now approximately 18,000 Indians and 17.000 Nepalese legally living in the country.

Asylum applications increased as well by 45% last year, reaching 1850, the highest since 2015. The majority were single men from the African continent.

Even the Golden Visa program has seen an uplift of applications in the first quarter of 2020. Between January and April, 260 applicants and 515 dependents received their residence cards. Although the Golden Visa program was due to be curtailed in the 2019 State Budget, it will be continued in the light of the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.

On the contrary, markedly fewer refugee statuses were granted citizenship  (183 in 2019 against 286 in 2020), predominantly to nationals of Asian countries.

However, as part of a European reallocation program, Greece finally succeeded in relocating 25 Afghan boys between 15 an17 years of age from their overcrowded migrant camps to Portugal. Besides Germany, the UK, and Luxembourg, Portugal is one of the few countries in the EU that in fact responds to the Greek request. The intention is to host 250 unaccompanied minors by the end of the year.

In contrast to other countries aiming to reduce immigration, the Portuguese socialist-led minority government wants to attract more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country’s low birth-rate and aging population.

Portugal is one of the 10 EU states where fewer than 5% of residents are foreign-born. It is in this light that Parliament just before the holidays approved Portuguese nationality at birth for children of legal immigrants who have lived in the country for at least one year.


Keep fit — Fique saudável (pic Público/Sapo)