At the end of 2000, Portugal hosted more than 1,500 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 during the year, 46 granted temporary protection, 11 asylum seekers with pending cases at year's end, and some 1,500 persons from Guinea Bissau who fled the 1998 civil war and remained in Portugal at the end of 2000.
Portugal received 224 requests for asylum in 2000, about one-third fewer applicants than the 307 received in 1999. The largest number of applicants came from Sierra Leone (52), followed by Nigeria (16), the Russian Federation (16), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (12).
In 2000, Portuguese authorities decided the cases of 213 applicants and granted refugee status to 16 persons of various nationalities, an approval rate of 8 percent.
Another 46 persons, a majority from Sierra Leone, received temporary residence permits for humanitarian reasons. The remaining 1,500 persons from Guinea Bissau arrived in Portugal after the outbreak of civil war in 1998, and they still lacked legal status at the end of 2000. Portugal denied 151 cases in the regular procedure.
Portugal's new asylum law, passed in 1998, remained in place in 2000. The 1998 law eased the Portuguese approach to asylum, replacing a 1993 asylum law widely criticized as overly restrictive.
The 1998 law gave the Aliens and Borders Services (Serviço de Extrangeiros e Fronteiras – SEF) the job of determining an asylum seeker's admissibility to the normal asylum procedure. The SEF forwards admissible asylum claims to the National Commissioner for Refugees, 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 through "safe third countries." Asylum seekers denied access to the asylum procedure on safe third country grounds are, however, 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 European Union states, according to the terms of the Dublin Convention, an agreement that designates the EU member state responsible for deciding asylum claims (see box, p. 198).
Applicants whose cases are found inadmissible may appeal to the National Commissioner for Refugees, 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 granted the National Commissioner for Refugees the authority to decide the appeals of negative admissibility decisions and increased its staff. The Commissioner 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. Similar to 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 PRC.
Asylum seekers may seek accommodation in a PRC-run reception center for up to two months or they may rent accommodations elsewhere.