Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Portugal

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Portugal, 2007, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
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 Portuguese Republic consists of the south-western Iberian peninsula and the island possessions of Madeira and the Azores. Its Atlantic coastline has made it a seafaring nation.


In Roman times Portus Cale was a settlement at the mouth of the Douro river, the present-day city of Porto. From the seventh to the ninth centuries the name was applied to the region between the Douro and the Minho rivers, which marks the northern border with Spain. The Moors set up their 'Kingdom of the West' in the Algarve in the eighth century, while central and northern Portugal were ruled by various counts and alternately by the Spanish kingdoms of Galicia and Leon. In 1143 independence was declared in northern Portugal and in 1179 Alfonso I (D. Afonso Henriques) was recognized as King of Portugal by the Pope. In 1250 the Algarve was taken and the Moors expelled. Portugal's borders have not changed since that time.

Seafaring, cartography, exploration and trading were strengths from early times. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Portugal was a leading world power. It established small but significant trading colonies in North and West Africa. In 1419 Madeira was discovered and in 1427 the Azores. In 1494 the Treaty of Tordesilhas with Spain divided the newly explored and unexplored world between Spain and Portugal along the north/south meridian 1,770 km west of the Cape Verde islands, with Portugal taking the lands to the east and Spain the lands to the west. Thus Portugal gained Brazil. The next possessions were Goa in India and small East African states, followed by the Moluccas and East Timor (in the Malay archipelago), and in 1557 the Chinese territory of Macao.

From 1580 to 1640 Portugal was ruled by Spain. Although it had a separate government, laws and currency, it declined and many Portuguese emigrated to Brazil in the seventeenth century. In 1709 Brazil was raised in status to a vice-kingdom and the Amerindians were given their freedom. Slavery was abolished in the Indian colonies in 1755. When Lisbon fell to French troops in the Napoleonic Wars in 1807, the Portuguese government moved to Rio de Janeiro until 1821. Brazil declared its independence as a separate kingdom in 1822 during an uprising in Portugal. There was civil war in Portugal from 1822 to 1834. This resulted in the first constitution giving more power to the aristocracy.

The republican movement gained strength from the late nineteenth century and a republic was declared in 1910. But the first republic was unstable with 45 governments in 16 years. In 1926 a right-wing military coup brought in the second republic and some measure of order. This was transformed into a right-wing authoritarian dictatorship under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar from 1933 to 1974. For the last 13 years of Salazar's rule, independence wars were fought in Portugal's African colonies, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. They gained independence when a left-wing military coup established the third republic in 1974.

From the 1950s to the 1960s large numbers of Portuguese emigrated to northern Europe to find better-paid work. A small number of people immigrated from the colonies, many of whom had Portuguese nationality. In the 1970s and 1980s over 500,000 Portuguese, some of whom were born abroad, returned to Portugal. The number of returning Portuguese and immigrants from former African colonies rose after liberation in 1974. The government introduced the first immigration law in 1981. After Portugal joined the European Economic Community in 1986, the economy strengthened and more workers, including immigrants, were needed. In the 1990s immigration laws were tightened again, but this failed to check a growing new wave of migrants from Eastern Europe.


Main languages: Portuguese

Main religions: Roman Catholicism

Minority groups include Azoreans 350,000 (3.3%), Madeirans 300,000 (2.8%), Cape Verde 55,590, Ukrainians 50,898(1*), Roma/Gypsies 40,000-50,000, Brazilians 28,956, Angola 26,702, Guinea-Bissau 20,825, Asians 9,426 (1**) and Sao Tome and Principe 7,928.

There were an estimated 275,906 foreign citizens living legally in Portugal at the end of 2005 out of a total population of 10.6 million, according to the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras. Other sources estimated there were a further 250,000 living illegally. The majority of immigrants live in the main urban industrial areas of Lisbon, Porto and Setubal. There are increasing numbers of East Europeans, mainly from Ukraine, but also from Moldova, Romania, Russia and Lithuania, who live in a broad range of large and small towns.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, with around 7.4 million followers (70% of the population). Other Christian denominations account for around 200,000 believers. There are some 12,000 Muslims and about 1,800 Jews. (2)


The 1976 Constitution bans discrimination and provides legal protection against discriminatory acts and practices. This protection covers discrimination on the grounds of ancestry, sex, race, age, disability, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological convictions, education, economic situation, social condition or sexual orientation, and any other reason. The scope of Portuguese law against discrimination is therefore wider than European Union (EU) law. This broader base was maintained in 2004 when the government enacted the EU Directives on Equal Racial Treatment and Equal Treatment in Employment.

Discrimination is a crime only in its most extreme forms: murder and assault motivated by racial or religious hatred, genocide, racial and religious discrimination and related intolerance, insults on grounds of religion and profanation of cemeteries.

The main anti-discrimination law enacting the provisions of the constitution is Law 134/99, which bans discrimination, establishes the principle of equality treatment and provides the legal framework to combat discrimination on the grounds of social or ethnic origin.

Religious freedom and equal treatment of religions and beliefs are regulated in Law 16/2001.

In the 1990s the government took steps to improve information and services, including education and housing, for immigrants in order to promote better integration. In 1991 a new Ministry of Education secretariat was set up to promote the development of multicultural education at the elementary and secondary school levels. The government expanded its housing programme, gave foreigners access to a guaranteed minimum social income and the right to vote in local elections provided there is a reciprocal arrangement in their country of origin.

Local authorities in Lisbon in 1993 and Amadora in 1995 created consultative councils with representatives of locally recognized associations of immigrants and ethnic minorities.

In 1996 the office of High Commissioner for Immigration and Ethnic Minorities (ACIME) was set up to conduct research into discrimination and social exclusion, and to propose legislation to help immigrants and ethnic minorities. ACIME provides advice to victims of discrimination but cannot represent them in court. However it has powers to enforce the law and to impose fines.

ACIME works with employers' associations, trade unions, social welfare institutions, immigrants' associations, government ministries, city councils and autonomous regions, which are represented on an advisory board, the COCAI/CCIA (Consultative Council for Immigration Affairs) set up in 1998. The Council gives advice on social integration.

ACIME is also assisted by another advisory body, the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination (CEARD), which collects information on incidents of discrimination and makes recommendations regarding fines.

ACIME coordinates the Interministerial Working Group for the Gypsy Community.

The Ombudsman, or Provedor de Justiça, receives complaints from the public regarding the actions of the authorities concerning discrimination and racism.

A child automatically becomes Portuguese if one parent is Portuguese and born in Portugal. A child born in Portugal to foreign parents is entitled to Portuguese citizenship if the parents have valid residence permits and have lived in Portugal for 10 years, or six years if the parents are citizens of a country where Portuguese is an official language. The same time period is required for naturalization, and foreign citizens must also have sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language and effective links with Portuguese society. The language and integration requirements also apply to those acquiring citizenship by marriage. A foreigner married to a Portuguese citizen for at least three years has the right to Portuguese citizenship. Portugal allows dual nationality.

Immigration laws have become progressively tighter since the first came into force in 1981. But there is a growing number of East European immigrants.

Until 1992 any citizen of the former African colonies could come to Portugal to live and work. However, restrictions were imposed following the ratification of the Schengen Convention in 1990, which allows for open borders between certain EU countries.

The government has offered various amnesties for illegal immigrants. The first round in 1994 legalized 40,000, the second in 35,000, and a fourth round in 2001 a massive 125,000, mostly from Eastern Europe, especially the Ukraine. The new immigration law adopted in August 2006 also offered amnesty to around 50,000 illegal Brazilian immigrants and an unknown number of others.

The new law offers new immigrants temporary residence permits if they have the qualifications to register on the 'employment exchange' (Bolsa de Empleo), or if they have work contracts. There is a new visa system for guest workers and residence permits for highly qualified foreign workers. Illegal immigrants already working in Portugal or with their own businesses will be given residence permits. The waiting period for family reunification is cut from nine to three months.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Amnesty International
Tel: +351 21 386 1664/+351 21 386 1652

OIKOS/Cooperação e Desenvolvimento
Tel: +351 21 882 3630

SOS Racismo
[Fight against Racism and the Xenophobia in Portugal]
Tel: +351 21 755 2700

INDE (Intercooperação e Desenvolvimento)
Tel: +351 21 843 5870

Santa Casa da Misericordia
[Children's shelter]
Tel: +351 21 323 5000

Aga Khan Foundation, Portugal
Tel: +351 21 722 9002

Azoreans and Madeirans

Sociedade de Desenvolvimento da Madeira
Tel: +351 291 201333

Sources and further reading


ACIME, Information Bulletin, 'Meios Jurídicos de Combate ao Racismo' ['Juridical Means for the Fight Against Racism']; 'Lei da Nacionalidade Portuguesa' [Portuguese Nationality Law']; 'Autorização de Permanência' ['Permanence Permit']; 'Trabalho de Estrangeiros em Portugal' ['Foreigner Workers in Portugal']; 'Recenseamento Eleitoral' [Electoral Census].

Baganha, M.I. and Marques, J.C., Imigração e Política: o caso português. Lisbon, Luso-American Foundation, 2001.

Fonseca, M., Caldeira, M.J. and Esteves, A., 'New forms of migration into the European South: challenges for citizenship and governance - the Portuguese case', International Journal of Population Geography, vol. 8, no. 2, 2002, pp. 135-52.

Moreno, L. et al., Guias das organizações e iniciativas de desenvolvimento local, Lisboa, Animar, 2004.

SOS Racismo, Imigração em Portugal [Immigration in Portugal], Lisbon, November 2002.

SOS Racismo, Imigração e Etnicidade - Vivências e Trajectórias de Mulheres em Portugal, Lisbon, 2005

Azoreans and Madeirans

IFTZ - Investment Guide, Sociedade de Desenvolvimento da Madeira, 2006.

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