While the asylum application can be presented (“made”) either to SEF or to any other police authority, the responsibility to register asylum claims lies solely with SEF. If an asylum application is presented to a different police authority, it must be referred to SEF within 48 hours. In accordance with SEF’s internal organisation, the responsibility for organising asylum files (including registration) lies with its Asylum and Refugees Department (SEF-GAR). SEF-GAR is required to inform CPR, as an organisation working on UNHCR’s behalf, of the registration of individual asylum applications.
In 2021, out of a total of 1,537 applications registered by SEF (including 270 made by persons relocated to Portugal), 1,433 (including 22 made by persons relocated to Portugal) were communicated to CPR. While this reflected a return to pre-pandemic figures (in 2019 there were 1,849 applications registered/1,714 applications communicated to CPR), a significant part of the total refers to persons evacuated from Afghanistan and admitted to Portugal (768) and persons relocated to the country (279). As such, the number of spontaneous applications remained comparatively low which is likely still connected to the restrictions upon international travel linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
In accordance with the law, anyone who irregularly enters Portuguese national territory or is refused entry at the border must present their asylum application to SEF or to any other police authority as soon as possible.
While there are no specific time limits for asylum seekers to lodge their application, the law provides for use of the Accelerated Procedure in case the asylum applicant enters or remains irregularly on national territory and fails to apply for asylum as soon as possible without a valid reason. This provision has rarely been applied in practice and, according to the experience of CPR, when applied, it is usually combined with other grounds for the application of accelerated procedures.
Failure to apply for asylum at the earliest possible time, unless the applicant can demonstrate good reason for not having done so, also constitutes a ground for not granting the benefit of the doubt. According to CPR’s observation, this provision has been applied by SEF in practice.
Additionally, it should be noted that persons refused entry at the border are liable to immediate removal to the point of departure, meaning that, in practice, they are required to present their asylum application immediately.
Upon presentation of the application, the asylum seeker is required to fill out a preliminary form, which includes information on identification, itinerary, grounds of the asylum application, supporting evidence, and witnesses. This preliminary form is available in Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Lingala, Russian and Pashtu. According to CPR’s experience, asylum seekers are not systematically provided with quality interpretation services at this stage of the procedure, which may result in the collection of insufficient and poor quality information.
Since December 2019, following an agreement between SEF and CPR, two CPR liaison officers have been deployed to the premises of SEF-GAR, where the majority of applications are made, to facilitate registration, provision of initial information, and necessary referrals (e.g. for housing). According to CPR’s observation, this measure has facilitated communication between the relevant entities and the provision of support to asylum seekers.
SEF is required to register the asylum application within 3 working days of presentation and to issue the applicant with a certificate of asylum application within 3 days of registration. Despite isolated delays (e.g. related to the registration of asylum applications presented in SEF’s regional representations), CPR has not encountered systemic or serious problems regarding the registration of applications as opposed to occasional instances of delayed issuance and renewal of the certificates of the asylum application. According to CPR’s observation, delays in the renewal of documents have usually been linked to difficulties in making appointments with SEF.
A decision from the Central Administrative Court South (TCA South) issued in 2021, considered that applications for international protection presented remotely may not be altogether disregarded by SEF. In the case analysed, the application had been initially filed by a lawyer representing the applicant via fax, and was not taken into account by SEF, which demanded that it should be made in person in order for the necessary checks to be performed (namely because it was not possible to confirm whether the applicant was indeed in Portugal at the time of application).
The report of the National Preventive Mechanism covering 2019 notes that, during a visit to the detention centre at Lisbon airport, the Mechanism spoke to two women who alleged that they have previously asked SEF to register their applications for international protection, but to no avail. The report further details that SEF denied that such requests have been made before and promptly registered the applications afterwards. The most recent report available at the time of writing (covering 2020) does not contain similar references.
In 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee highlighted that Portugal should “[e]nsure that all applications for international protection at the border and in reception and detention facilities are promptly received, registered and referred to the asylum authorities” and “[c]ontinue its efforts to maintain and strengthen the quality of its refugee status determination procedures, in order to fairly and efficiently identify and recognize those in need of international protection and to afford sufficient guarantees of respect for the principle of non-refoulement under the Covenant”. The Committee further recommended that Portugal strengthens “[…] training for the staff of migration institutions and border personnel on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees under the Covenant and other international standards”.
A study focusing on the situation of asylum-seeking unaccompanied children and ageing out in Portugal published in 2021 revealed that the majority of those questioned stated that they were not aware of the possibility of applying for international protection upon arrival in the country, and that they have been informed of it by the national authorities in light of their situation.
 Article 13(1) and (7) Asylum Act.
 Article 13(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 17 Decree-Law 252/2000.
 While slight discrepancies between the number of registered applications and applications communicated to CPR were common, since 2019, a significant difference between the two figures has been observed. Please note that statistics included in this report from CPR only refer to applications communicated to the organisation in accordance with the communication duties established in the Asylum Act.
 Article 13(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 19(1)(d) Asylum Act.
 Article 18(4)(d) Asylum Act.
 Article 41(1) Immigration Act.
 Articles 13(7) and 14(1) Asylum Act.
 Appointments are generally made through a phone line.
 Ibid, par.35(f).
 Sandra Roberto, Carla Moleiro, ed. Observatório das Migrações, De menor a maior: acolhimento e autonomia de vida em menores não acompanhados, April 2021, p.50, available at: https://bit.ly/3fqMKBK.