Resettlement in Portugal – Prospects for a Durable Solution

João Vasconcelos, ERN National Network Focal Point for Portugal, and Tânia Dias, who both work with the Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR), discussed the Portuguese resettlement programme and their own experience of working with resettled refugees in Portugal on the radio programme, “Sou refugiado” (“I’m a refugee”), which was aired by the public radio broadcaster RDP África on 14th April 2013.

João began by explaining that resettlement consists of the transfer of refugees from a state in which they have first sought protection, to a third state that has agreed to admit them with permanent residence status.

“What happens in many cases is that refugees first flee to a country where, for example, their security remains in jeopardy or where there are strict encampment policies, with limited freedom of movement or access to basic services such as education. A durable solution for their refuge is therefore not a realistic prospect in that country and this is where the Portuguese resettlement programme comes into play.”

Up to 2013, the Portuguese programme has resettled 164 refugees of 14 different nationalities. In most cases, these were families, though in 2012, Portugal received unaccompanied minors for the first time following the inauguration of CPR’s Reception Centre for Refugee Children in Lisbon. This was a highly vulnerable group, which included orphans, as well as victims of sexual violence and human trafficking.

The countries where they had initially settled were clearly unequipped to provide them with adequate protection arrangements, and the decision to resettle them in Portugal was therefore taken as a last resort, given that in the case of unaccompanied minors, family reunification is always considered a priority,’ João added.

Traditionally, however, Europe is not the main destination for resettled refugees, as over 90 per cent of resettled refugees go to the United States, Canada and Australia. Nevertheless, these past few years, a number of EU Member States have started resettlement programmes with the support of the European Union. However, the overall number of refugees resettled on our continent is still low, at approximately 8 per cent of the global resettlement figure.

Tânia explained that when adult resettled refugees arrive in Portugal, they are received at CPR’s Refugee Reception Centre, located in the Municipality of Loures, where they can live temporarily for between three to six months typically. A team composed of social workers, legal officers and a language trainer offer support in building an individual integration plan and a concrete life project. They are welcomed in collective information sessions, where they are given information about services, Portuguese culture and society, housing and job opportunities.

The role Portugal is playing with its resettlement programme is a relevant one and its relevance is increasing by the year.

As concluded by Tânia, “Our aim is to make them feel safe in order to consider Portugal the country in which they want to settle, and not just a transit place in their onward route, as was the case of their initial country of asylum that hosted them before.”

Written by Alice Tusarelli and João Vasconcelos, Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR)