At the end of 1999, Portugal hosted more than 1,650 asylum seekers and refugees in need of protection, according to the Portuguese government and the Portuguese Refugee Council (PRC). These included 16 individuals granted asylum, 171 granted temporary protection, an estimated 200 asylum seekers with pending cases at year's end, and some 1,300 persons from Guinea Bissau who fled the 1998 civil war and remained in Portugal at the end of 1999.
Portugal received 307 requests for asylum in 1999, a slight decrease from the 338 applications received in 1998. The largest number of applicants came from Sierra Leone (85), followed by Angola (39), Bosnia (28), and Nigeria (15).
In 1999, Portuguese authorities decided the cases of 270 applicants and granted refugee status to 16 persons of various nationalities, for an approval rating of 6 percent. Another 50 persons, a majority from Sierra Leone, received temporary residence permits for humanitarian reasons. The remaining undocumented 1,300 persons from Guinea Bissau arrived in Portugal in 1998 and still lacked legal status at the end of 1999. Portugal denied about 210 cases in the regular procedure.
During 1999, Portugal granted 1,271 Kosovars temporary protection for an initial six-month period. After Serb forces relinquished control of Kosovo in June, 987 Kosovo Albanians returned. An additional 121 Kosovo refugees decided to stay until spring of 2000. The remainder reportedly left Portugal, either to return to Kosovo or to move to another country.
During 1999, Portugal hosted 348 individuals from East Timor. According to government officials, East Timorese entering Portugal were allowed to claim Portuguese citizenship and are not considered in need of protection.
In 1998, Portugal passed a new asylum law that softened its approach to asylum, replacing a 1993 asylum law widely criticized as overly restrictive.
The 1998 law gave the Aliens and Border Service Division of Refugees (SEF) the job of determining an asylum seeker's admissibility to the normal asylum procedure. The Aliens and Border Service forwards admissible asylum claims to the National Commissioner for Refugees (NCR), which provides advisory opinions on cases. The Ministry of the Interior makes final asylum decisions.
The 1998 asylum law authorizes the Portuguese authorities to reject the asylum claims of applicants arriving via "safe third countries" that are not European Union (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. Portugal transfers and receives asylum seekers with other EU states, according to the terms of the Dublin Convention, an agreement that designates the EU member state responsible for deciding asylum claims (see chart).
Applicants whose cases are found inadmissible may appeal to the NCR, which has 48 hours to make a decision. If that decision is negative, the applicant may appeal to the administrative court within eight days. Nevertheless, filing an appeal does not automatically suspend deportation.
The 1998 asylum law strengthened the NCR, giving it the authority to decide the appeals of negative admissibility decisions and increasing its staff. The NCR may also advise the Ministry of the Interior to grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds.
Rejected asylum seekers may appeal their cases to an administrative court, and negative decisions in the second instance may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. As with those rejected by the SEF, filing an appeal does not automatically suspend an applicant's deportation.
Asylum seekers considered admissible by the SEF receive a temporary residence permit, which is valid for two months and renewable monthly until a final decision is made. It allows the applicant to work, attend professional training courses, study, and apply for a tax contributor card. Asylum seekers are also entitled to free legal counseling, medical assistance, and benefits from humanitarian organizations such as the Portugal Refugee Council (PRC).
Asylum seekers may seek accommodation in a PRC-run reception center, which opened in March 1999. Asylum seekers must leave the center after two months, when they should have had a decision on their application for refugee status. Asylum seekers may also rent accommodations.