Overview of the main changes since the previous report update


Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 21/05/21


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The report was previously updated in May 2020.

Background information

In the course of 2020, the Government announced its intention to conduct a structural reform of the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF). According to publicly available information, one of the core elements of the reform will be the strict separation between administrative competencies relating to foreigners and criminal investigation competencies that are currently held by SEF.

For that purpose, it has been announced that a new authority – Serviço de Estrageiros e Asilo/Foreigners and Asylum Service – will be created. This entity will be in charge of matters relating to the regularisation and documentation of migrants as well as asylum.[1] SEF Inspectors will, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, be integrated in the remaining police forces. The reform, that will also impact border control, is to be implemented in the course of 2021.[2]

Throughout the year, and for the first time, the exterior walls of the Refugee Reception Centre (CAR), CPR’s reception centre for applicants for international protection, have been vandalised three times with racist and xenophobic messages targeting refugees.

In 2020, Portugal committed to receive 500 unaccompanied children from Greece.[3] According to the Minister of the Presidency, 72 unaccompanied children from 14 countries of origin were transferred from Greece to Portugal throughout the year.[4] In September 2020, following the tragic events in Moria, Portugal announced that it communicated to the European Commission its availability to participate in the common effort for the reception of persons that were at the camp, within the framework of its two bilateral agreements with Greece.[5]

In April 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee published its Concluding Observations following the periodic report of Portugal. The Committee flagged concerns and issued recommendations directly linked to the asylum system, notably regarding the identification of vulnerable persons, procedural delays, excessive use of accelerated procedures, duration and conditions of detention, and detention of children.[6]

In May 2020, the Observatory for Migration (OM) published its first Statistical Report of Asylum (2020).[7] The report identifies challenges and issues recommendations with regard to adequate monitoring of the asylum system, as well as challenges inherent to the asylum policy.

In October 2020, the European Commission announced having “decided to send a reasoned opinion to Portugal for failing to fully transpose the recast Asylum Procedures Directive”.[8] No further information on this procedure was available at the time of writing.

According to the information provided by the Minister of the Presidency to the Parliament on 21 December 2020, 219 refugees were resettled in Portugal in the course of 2020.[9] In 2020, CPR hosted 71 new resettled refugees, nationals of Syria and of Iraq, all resettled from Turkey. A total of 178 resettled refugees benefited from CPR support during the year. Among the main challenges identified by CPR are the end of programme transition and the additional hurdles faced due to COVID-19 (that, overall, delayed integration).

In September 2020, SEF and IOM formalised a new agreement concerning the resettlement of refugees (2020-2022). According to the available information, Portugal committed to resettle 1,729 refugees from Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan.[10]

Asylum procedure

  • Applicants for international protection: A total of 1,002 applications for international protection were registered in Portugal in 2020. This sharp decrease from 2019 (1,849 applications) is likely due to the restrictions to movement imposed within the context of the coronavirus pandemic (i.e. the closure of land borders from 16 March to 1 July 2020; prohibition/restrictions to air traffic from non-EU countries)
  • Impact of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: While SEF’s Asylum and Refugees Department remained open for the purposes of receiving and registering new applications for international protection, deadlines within the asylum procedure were suspended in March 2020. As such, personal interviews were not conducted between March and May 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, all applicants for international protection detained at the Lisbon airport were released into national territory in March 2020. COVID-19 related measures adopted after May 2020 and throughout the rest of the year had less impact on the asylum procedure. A detailed overview of coronavirus-related measures impacting the asylum system is provided in Annex II.


  • Low recognition rates: According to the data provided by SEF, a total of 847 first instance in-merit decisions have been adopted in 2020, of which 77 granting refugee status, 17 granting subsidiary protection and 753 rejecting the application (either in regular or accelerated procedures). Accordingly, the in-merit rejection rate rose to 88.9%, a significant increase compared to 2019 (67.3%). The information provided by SEF further indicates that 410 inadmissibility decisions have been adopted in 2020, and that 486 cases have been admitted to the regular procedure.
  • Dublin procedure: Following a first judgement in early 2020 focusing on the obligations of applicants and national authorities regarding the allegation/substantiation of systemic flaws and, particularly, the situation in Italy, the Supreme Administrative Court (STA) issued several similar decisions throughout the year. Overall, the Court’s case law in this regard reaffirmed that (i) SEF is not bound to a general duty to inquire the situation in the responsible Member State; (ii) that the applicant bears a burden of allegation and demonstration of the risk in case of return; and (iii) that the flaws in the asylum system of the responsible Member State must be extremely severe. The Court has also affirmed that the situation in Italy does not amount to one of generalised risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.


  • Border procedure: The border procedure has been suspended since March 2020. In mid-March 2020, the detention centre at Lisbon airport was closed (both due to the coronavirus pandemic and for renovation work). While applications for international protection at the border have been made since the international air traffic resumed and the facility re-opened, at the time of writing, such applicants were given entry into national territory, referred to accommodation if needed, and their cases were not subject to the rules applicable to the border procedure. At the time of writing, it was not clear whether this is temporary or will become permanent practice.


Reception conditions

  • Responsibility for reception: In November 2020, a resolution of the Council of Ministers establishing a single system of reception and integration of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection was published.[11] It foresees inter alia the creation of Single Operative Group (SOG) composed of a variety of authorities, institutions and relevant organisations responsible for coordination and managing the reception system.


  • Housing: As a result of measures adopted within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the occupancy of accommodation facilities, and the average accommodation period with the assistance of CPR were significantly reduced after April 2020 (from 7 months to 2 and a half months).


Detention of asylum seekers

  • Use of detention: In March 2020, applicants for international protection that were detained at the border were released from administrative detention. The detention centre at Lisbon airport (the facility where the majority of asylum seekers were usually detained) re-opened on 1 August 2020 with vastly different conditions and a new internal regulation was approved. Persons applying for international protection at the Lisbon airport have not been detained in the facility since then and are being granted access to the territory for the purpose of the asylum procedure. However, asylum seekers who apply for international protection while in detention due to a removal procedure continued to be subject to detention throughout the year, including in airport detention facilities.

Content of international protection

  • Cessation of subsidiary protection: In 2020, 262 decisions to cease subsidiary protection were adopted by the national authorities, mainly concerning Ukrainians (176) followed by Guineans (25) and Pakistanis (20). This confirms the previously reported trend of an increase of cessation procedures of subsidiary protection. CPR continued to observe significant shortcomings in cessation procedures. No refugee status has been ceased however.


  • Nationality: The Nationality Act was recast in 2020. Among others, the amendment expanded the scope of acquisition of nationality at birth by children born to foreign parents in Portugal and introduced changes to special naturalisation regimes. The corresponding Nationality Regulation has not been adopted at the time of writing. The 2018 recast of the Nationality Act, which introduced provisions that may have a positive impact for applicants and beneficiaries of international protection (particularly, unaccompanied children), has not yet been regulated as well.




[1] Comunicado do Conselho de Ministros de 8 de abril de 2021, 8 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3mGgY6o

[2] Sic Notícias, Inspetores do SEF vão integrar PSP, GNR ou PJ após reestruturação, 19 March 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3mIXxtF. In April 2021, a Resolution determining the main political guidance for the reform was adopted by the Council of Ministers – Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 43/2021 of 14 April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/338kOMC.

[3]Reuters, ‘Portugal to take in 500 unaccompanied migrant children from Greek camps’, 12 May 2020, available at: https://reut.rs/3r5HirI.

[4] Video recording available at: https://bit.ly/3ouCeeM.  

[5] Nota à Comunicação Social, 11 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2YsQD0B

[6] Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Portugal, CCPR/C/PRT/CO/5. 28 April 2020, par 32-37, available at: https://bit.ly/2Q1ftn8

[7] Following Parliament resolution no. 292/2018 recommending the publication of a yearly report on the national asylum policy. Observatory for Migration, Entrada, Acolhimento e Integração de Requerentes e Beneficiários de Protecção Internacional em Portugal – Relatório Estatístico do Asilo 2020, May 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2MGYtB9.

[8] European Commission, October infringements package: key decisions, 30 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tin7Is.

[9] Video recording available at: https://bit.ly/3ouCeeM

[10] EMN, EMN Bulletin, November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tfN6Au.

[11] Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 103/2020 of 23 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3oBLXQm.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation