Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 15:14 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Portugal

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Portugal , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
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.

At the end of 1998, Portugal hosted more than 1,300 asylum seekers and refugees in need of protection, according to the Portuguese government and the Portuguese Refugee Council (PRC). These included about 200 applicants awaiting a decision at year's end, 34 persons granted either asylum or humanitarian status during the year, and 1,131 citizens of Guinea Bissau with temporary protection who remained in Portugal at year's end.

Portugal evacuated the 1,131 Guinea Bissau nationals in June 1998 because of the civil war in their country. The PRC estimated that as many as 4,000 additional persons from Guinea Bissau arrived in Portugal spontaneously during 1998. In contrast to the evacuees, many of the spontaneous arrivals reportedly had problems obtaining legal status. Very few of the spontaneous arrivals applied for asylum.

During 1998, 365 people filed 338 applications for asylum in Portugal, a 35 percent increase over the 251 applications filed in 1997. The largest number of asylum applicants came from Sierra Leone (64), followed by Nigeria (40), Ghana (33), and Algeria (24).

In 1998, Portuguese authorities decided the cases of 291 asylum applicants in the normal asylum procedure, conferring refugee status in 4 cases, an approval rate of 1.3 percent. Portugal also granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds to 28 applicants, or 9.6 percent of cases decided. Authorities denied the cases of 259 applicants during the year. Portugal's Supreme Administrative Court granted an additional two applicants asylum and denied the cases of 41 applicants in 1998.

Asylum Procedure

On January 29, 1998, Portugal's parliament passed a new asylum law, effective on May 26, which softened Portugal's approach to asylum, replacing a 1993 asylum law widely criticized as overly restrictive. While the new legislation was viewed positively, the PRC reported that some gaps in refugee protection remained in 1998.

The most serious problem concerned the new admissibility procedure for asylum seekers designed to screen out abusive and manifestly unfounded applications. The new law gives the Aliens and Border Service the job of deciding on the admissibility of asylum seekers to the normal asylum procedure. According to the PRC, the inadequate review of asylum requests at the admissibility stage during 1998 risked the refoulement of refugees, particularly at airports and other ports of entry. The Aliens and Border Service used "very rigid mechanisms of credibility" in deciding on admissibility, lending too much weight to false, or absent, travel documentation, and employing unreasonably high standards of proof, the PRC said. Although an applicant may appeal a negative admissibility decision, the filing of an appeal does not automatically suspend his or her deportation.

The PRC estimated that the Aliens and Border Service declared as many as 63 percent of all asylum requests as inadmissible to the asylum procedure between May and December 31. On the other hand, the PRC noted that the new law provides for the training of airport officials, which may ultimately lead to improvements in refugee protection.

The Aliens and Border Service forwards admissible asylum claims to the National Commissioner for Refugees (NCR), who provides advisory opinions on cases. The Ministry of the Interior makes final asylum decisions.

The 1998 asylum law strengthened the role of the NCR, giving it the authority to decide the appeals of negative admissibility decisions and increasing the office's staff. The NCR may also advise the Ministry of the Interior to grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds. The quality of NCR opinions reportedly improved in 1998.

The new asylum law also gives UNHCR and the PRC an advisory role in all stages of the asylum procedure.

Under the new law, rejected asylum seekers may appeal their cases to an administrative court. Negative decisions in the second instance may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, previously responsible for second-instance decisions. The change was expected to reduce significantly the time to make appeals decisions, which under the old system averaged three years. Filing an appeal does not automatically suspend the deportation of the applicant.

Under the normal asylum procedure, asylum applicants receive provisional residence permits, which authorize them to work. Although the new asylum law significantly improved asylum seekers' rights to social assistance, most social assistance provisions of the law reportedly remained unimplemented at year's end. Thus, asylum seekers largely depended on the PRC and other NGOs for assistance in 1998.

In addition to refugee status, the new asylum law also provides for the grant of residence permits on humanitarian grounds and temporary asylum.

Dublin Convention

Portugal is a signatory to the Dublin Convention, a European Union (EU) agreement that designates the member state responsible for deciding asylum claims. Generally, Dublin holds that the EU member state that issued the visa, or the member state of first arrival in the event of undocumented entry, is responsible for adjudicating the asylum claim.

The new asylum law also authorizes Portuguese authorities to reject the asylum claims of applicants arriving via "safe third countries" that are not EU members. Asylum seekers denied access to the asylum procedure on safe third country grounds are given the chance to rebut the presumption of safety in the third country, according to the Portuguese government.

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