This is a non-exhaustive overview of relevant measures adopted with regard to the coronavirus pandemic between March 2020 and December 2020, particularly relevant within the context of international protection:
On 13 March 2020, the government enacted Decree-Law no. 10-A/2020, establishing temporary and exceptional measures in response to the new coronavirus. It was determined, inter alia, that documents expired after the entry into force of the Decree-Law or within the 15 days prior, were valid until 30 June 2020. This extension of validity is applicable to visas and documents related to the residency of foreign nationals, and thus to the documents held by applicants for international protection.
Said Decree-Law was subsequently amended, further extending the validity of such documents. It was last amended by Decree-Law no. 87-A/2020 in 2020, determining inter alia that:
- Documents expired since the entry into force of the Decree-Law, or within the 15 days prior to its entry into force, are accepted as valid until 31 March 2021.
- After 31 March 2021, such documents continue to be accepted providing the holder has an appointment for its renewal.
Controls at internal borders were reinstated, on an exceptional and temporary basis on 16 March 2020. Most notably, the resolution prohibited road traffic of passengers between Portugal and Spain. A number of exceptions were established, including the right of entry for nationals and holders of national residence permits. These measures, agreed upon by the competent authorities of Portugal and Spain, were subsequently renewed, and finally lifted on 1 July 2020.
Within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the state of emergency due to public calamity was declared by Presidential Decree on 18 March 2020 for the period between 19 March and 2 April 2020. On 2 April 2020, the state of emergency was extended until 17 April 2020, and was then renewed again until 2 May 2020.
In line with the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council of 16 March 2020, regarding the temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU, air traffic to and from non-EU countries was prohibited on 18 March 2020. Exceptions were introduced for Schengen Associated States, countries whose official language is Portuguese, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Venezuela, Canada, and South Africa (due to the existence of significant Portuguese communities in such countries). Measures concerning air traffic were also adjusted/extended throughout the year.
On 25 March 2020, it was determined that the National and Local Support Centres for Migrant Integration (CNAIM/CLAIM) would continue to provide in-person services upon scheduling.
On 27 March 2020, the Minister of the Presidency, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, and the Minister of Health issued the Order no.3863-B/2020 on the situation of foreign citizens with pending procedures with the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF). The Order covered a variety of topics such as the scheduling and/or rescheduling of appointments as well as the suspension of deadlines within the asylum procedure. With regard to the asylum procedure, the Order notably determined that:
- SEF’s Asylum and Refugees Department would remain open for the purposes of receiving and registering new applications for international protection.
- Deadlines within the asylum procedure were suspended.
As such, personal interviews were not conducted between March and May 2020. According to available information, remote interview techniques were not adopted by the authorities within this context. As per the available information, while Dublin procedures were not interrupted, restrictions to freedom of movement led to a halt of Dublin transfers. Furthermore, SEF reported that the reduced number of flights and testing requirements by the responsible Member States, along with cases of absconding further restricted the execution of Dublin transfers in 2020.
According to CPR’s observation, despite the suspension of deadlines, some applicants for international protection continued to be notified of decisions on their applications by post, at least in the first weeks following the issuance of Order no.3863-B/2020.
Apparently, the suspension formally ended on 2 May 2020.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, all applicants for international protection detained at EECIT Lisbon were released into national territory in March 2020.
The exceptional measures adopted within the coronavirus pandemic also covered judicial deadlines. While the initial provisions introduced by Article 7 of Law 1-A/2020 of 9 March raised some doubts, urgent judicial processes (such as those connected to the Asylum Act) were not suspended from 7 April 2020.
Overall, Covid-related legal measures adopted during the second semester of 2020 had less impact on the asylum procedure.
The state of emergency due to public calamity was again declared by Presidential Decree on 6 November 2020 for the period between 9 and 23 November 2020. On 20 November 2020, the state of emergency was extended (24 November to 8 December). On 4 December, the state of emergency was renewed for the period between 9 December and 23 December 2020. On 17 December, the state of emergency was once again renewed (24 December 2020 to 7 January 2021).
Broadly, and while different concrete measures were adopted since November, the decrees determining the state of emergency enabled the adoption of limited restrictions to, inter alia, the right to liberty and freedom of movement; private and social initiative; workers’ rights, data protection rights and the application of health checks related to Covid-19 within certain contexts. None of the restrictions (including prohibitions to leave the municipality of residence without imperious reasons – as established in the law – for certain periods) enacted within the context of the state of emergency was specific to applicants for/beneficiaries of international protection.
On 8 November 2020, the Minister of the Presidency, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, and the Minister of Health issued the Order no.10944/2020, establishing inter alia that the rights provided by previous Orders (notably the above-mentioned Order no.3863-B/2020) remained in force. Nevertheless, according to CPR’s observation, confirmed by SEF, the deadlines of the asylum procedure were not suspended in practice, and procedural acts such as interviews and decisions continued to be conducted/issued during the whole second semester of 2020.
While the coronavirus pandemic required significative adjustments to the provision of services by CPR, legal, social and integration-related support was continuously ensured throughout the year.
The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the shortcomings in the reception system previously reported by CPR.
The provision of material reception conditions, in particular housing to asylum seekers, was quickly flagged by CPR as a concern, both due to the communitarian setting of most accommodations available (shared kitchens, rooms, sanitary facilities, and living spaces), and to systematic instances of overcrowding observed at the time.
Coronavirus contingency plans for all CPR facilities (particularly reception centres) were designed in early March and continuously adjusted in light of relevant developments and recommendations from the competent authorities. Such plans included, inter alia, the reactivation of rooms for isolation for health purposes in CAR and CAR2, the acquisition of personal protection equipment for staff and residents, and increased distribution of hygiene products such as hand sanitisers.
In the beginning of March, before the suspension of in-person activities, information sessions on the virus, and prevention of contagion were held in the reception centres. The sessions were organised in partnership with the Directorate General for Health (DGS) and with local health centres and conducted by healthcare professionals.
On 17 April 2020, an asylum seeker accommodated in a hostel in Lisbon tested positive to Covid-19. The case was immediately communicated to the competent authorities. On 19 April 2020, a joint operation ensured that all applicants accommodated in the facility were tested and the building was disinfected. Around 170 tests were performed, out of which 138 were positive, with only one person showing symptoms. All persons tested were later transferred to a military base in Ota for the purpose of quarantine. CPR, ACM, ISS and SCML continued to accompany the cases during this period.
Following these events, and in line with previous decisions to conduct testing operations in communitarian accommodation facilities (e.g., nursing homes), the health authorities decided to test all asylum seekers accommodated in other facilities in Lisbon. These were public health operations that included an information-sharing component and involved various governmental and non-governmental actors, including CPR. Testing and necessary follow-ups (including quarantining/prophylactic isolation) continued to be organised whenever deemed necessary and according to the specific features of the situations at stake.
In the meantime, an integrated plan to address the impact of Covid-19 as well as the provision of accommodation to applicants for international protection was discussed under a Crisis Working Group, created by the end of April 2020, gathering an array of relevant stakeholders, including CPR. This was a positive step to address the chronic reception problems. The measure, that was accompanied by a memorandum of understanding between CPR and SCML and an increase in the number of meetings of the GTO, allowed for a quick decrease on the number of asylum seekers benefiting from CPR’s support and, consequently, to address the quality of reception conditions.
Additionally, CPR worked towards a redistribution of accommodation places and the identification of alternative facilities. The maximum capacity of reception facilities was adjusted according to relevant recommendations.
Admission to reception facilities was also restructured in order to mitigate the risk of contagion among residents. As such, it comprises an initial period of prophylactic isolation until a negative Covid-19 test result is obtained. During the isolation period, adults and accompanied children are accommodated in external accommodation, while unaccompanied children and other particularly vulnerable persons are accommodated in isolation rooms in one of CPR’s reception centres. During this period, CPR ensures the provision of meals and all other necessary goods.
The use of masks is mandatory to the staff of reception centres. In CAR, the residents must wear a mask in common spaces, during counselling sessions, and during group activities. The body temperature of those entering the building is checked. In CACR, children are not required to wear masks inside. Body temperature checks are also performed.
Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and following the implementation of the state of emergency in March 2020, CPR registered obstacles in accessing some public services, namely scheduling of appointments for the issuance of fiscal identification numbers to applicants for international protection. Language and technological barriers precluded scheduling by phone/online. Similar difficulties were registered regarding ISS numbers. These obstacles were eventually overcome.
The pandemic posed significant challenges to the development of Portuguese language courses throughout the year. These were due to the general obstacles to remote language teaching, but also to the difficulties experienced by applicants of international protection in accessing and using the necessary equipment and resources.
Decree-Law 10-A/2020 of 13 March suspended in-person school activities. The suspension entered into force on 16 March 2020. Detailed legislative provisions concerning education were introduced by Decree-Law 14-G/2020 of 13 April 2020. While certain in-person classes of the upper secondary education level were resumed in May, primary and lower secondary levels only resumed in-person classes in September. Remote learning during the third school term was ensured through specific activities organised by schools and complemented by the television broadcast of classes for all years of primary and lower secondary education levels.
According to CPR’s experience, remote learning posed several challenges to child applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection that were both general and specific in nature (e.g., lack of familiarity with technology and the language of children and their parents). Staff at reception centres managed by CPR developed targeted efforts to support access to education during the suspension.
Throughout the year, CPR observed that, at least in some contexts, applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection faced additional challenges in accessing healthcare (compared to previous years), likely due to the overburdening of healthcare services. According to the publicly available information, such difficulties are common to the whole population and not particular to refugees.
The National Vaccination Plan (Covid-19) was approved by Ministerial Decree 298-B/2020, of 23 December 2020. The Ministerial Order determines that the national vaccination plan is grounded on the principles of universality, acceptability, and feasibility and is free of charge.
Priority groups for Covid-19 vaccination are defined based on a combination of factors such as age and pre-existent conditions (in addition to essential workers). Asylum seekers and refugees living in communitarian facilities are considered a group with an increased risk of infection and outbreaks (e.g., elderly homes) and, as such, prioritised. Vaccination at CPR’s Reception Centres occurred in the beginning of the 2021.
 Decree-Law 10-A/2020 of 13 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3fLex13. An English translation of the amended Decree-Law is available at: https://bit.ly/3kUSqG0 [last updated on 15 January 2021].
 The Decree-Law was subsequently amended in March 2021, extending the validity of documents until 31 December 2021.
Decree of the President of the Republic No.14-A/2020 of 18 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2RAHCiS. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree No.2-A/2020 of 20 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2V4qRie.
Decree of the President of the Republic No.17-A/2020 of 2 April 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2Xz3vml. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree no.2-B/2020 of 2 April 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/34E3grY.
Decree of the President of the Republic no.20-A/2020 of 17 April, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2KrNKGi. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree No.2-C/2020 of 17 April, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3bA7ROr.
 Albeit with certain limits to flights to and from Brazil.
 Order no.11231-A/2020, of 13 November 2020; Order no.11836-B/2020, of 30 November; Order no.12202-A/2020, of 15 December.
 Order No. 3863-B/2020 of 27 March 2020, para 7.
Decree of the President of the Republic no.51-U/2020, 6 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3sX2EJJ. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree no.8/2020, 8 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/36e5dxg.
 Decree of the President of the Republic no.59-A/2020, 20 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39hXksC. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree no.9/2020, 21 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3sWSc4I; rectified by Declaration of Rectification no.47/2020, 22 November 2020 and no.47-B/2020, 24 November 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3qPAa2r, and https://bit.ly/3pjdk2P.
 Decree of the President of the Republic no.61-A/2020, of 4 December 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3c98ilL. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree no.11/2020, 6 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3pfQskQ.
 Decree of the President of the Republic no.66-A/2020, of 17 December 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3pjdiYK. During this period, the state of emergency was regulated by Decree no.11-A/2020, of 21 December 2020, available at https://bit.ly/36cHcGF. The state of emergency has been subsequently renewed in the beginning of 2021 as well.
 The following entities were involved in the operation: Civil Protection Authority, Municipality of Lisbon, SEF, National Medical Emergency (INEM), ACM, Public Security Police (PSP), Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML), Lisbon Firefighters and the Mosque.
 Secretary of State for Integration and Migration (SEIM), SEF, Municipality of Lisbon, Civil Protection Authority, Public Health Directorate, National Medical Emergency, High Commissioner for Migration (ACM), Institute of Social Security, Lisbon Firefighters, Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML), the Public Security Police (PSP), the Mosque and CPR.
 SEIM, SEF, PSP, Municipality of Lisbon, Civil Protection Authority, Public Health Directorate, National Medical Emergency, ACM, Lisbon Firefighters, SCML, Institute of Social Security and CPR.
 This applies to all applicants that do not present a negative test made in the 72 hours prior to arrival.
 Difficulties in obtaining the fiscal number were also reported by Crescer.
 Decree-Law 10-A/2020 of 13 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3fLex13. An English translation of the amended Decree-Law is available at: https://bit.ly/3kUSqG0. [last updated on 15 January 2021].