The report was previously updated in April 2019.
- Applicants for international protection: The increase of spontaneous applications for international protection persisted in 2019. There were 1,849 spontaneous asylum applicants in Portugal, up from 1,270 in 2018.
- Arrivals by sea: While sea arrivals are not common in Portugal, in December 2019 and in the beginning of 2020, two groups of Moroccan nationals arrived by sea in small boats in the region of Algarve. Following disembarkation, all of them applied for international protection and their applications were processed on the territory (i.e. they were not subject to a border procedure).
- Relocation: In the course of 2019, Portugal continued to systematically participate in ad hoc relocation following rescue operations in the Mediterranean and disembarkation in Malta and Italy.
- Dublin procedure: The full extent and implications of the right to be heard in Dublin procedures, and the applicability of Article 17 Asylum Act in such procedures, continued to be discussed in national jurisprudence in 2019, including by appeal courts. While it seems undisputed that applicants are entitled to the right to be heard in Dublin procedures, there is still divergence with regard to its legal basis and its scope.
Moreover, jurisprudence regarding transfers to Italy continued to increase with divergent outcomes, both in first and second instance courts. Different reasonings were noted with regard to the extent of the applicant’s burden of allegation/substantiation of systemic flaws, and the scope of the duty to assess the situation in the receiving Member State by the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF). A judgment from the Supreme Administrative Court in January 2020 determined that the authorities are only bound to a duty to obtain up-to-date information on the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment where there are valid reasons to believe that there are systemic flaws in the asylum procedure and reception conditions of the receiving Member State and where such flaws amount to a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.
- Vulnerable applicants: In its Concluding Observations on Portugal published in 2019 the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged Portugal to put in place effective mechanisms for the identification of victims of torture among applicants for international protection. Concerns were also expressed by the latter and other entities such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with regard to the gaps in the identification and provision of procedural guarantees for specific categories of vulnerable applicants (e.g. unaccompanied minors, victims of violence and victims of human trafficking).
- Age assessment: While the examination of genitals was not used for the purpose of age assessments in the past, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science (INMLCF) published in 2019 a procedural note that includes the evaluation of sexual development as part of the age assessment procedure. According to information gathered by CPR, these methods were applied in practice in 2019. The Committee on the Rights of the Child recently recommended that Portugal enforces age assessment procedures that are multidisciplinary and in line with international standards and that relevant staff is properly trained.
- Differential treatment of specific nationalities in the procedure: In the course of 2019, CPR observed that, in a significant number of applications lodged by Venezuelans, SEF deemed the applications unfounded under accelerated procedures and channelled the cases into regularisation procedures through the humanitarian clause foreseen in Article 123 of the Immigration Act which establishes an exceptional regularisation regime. Information on the practical implementation of such regularisation was not available at the time of writing. SEF did not share statistics on the adoption of decisions granting humanitarian protection in 2019.
- Housing: Overcrowding in reception facilities persisted throughout 2019. CPR provided reception assistance to a total of 1,866 asylum seekers, of which only 12% were accommodated in the Refugee Reception Centre (CAR), 82% in alternative private accommodation (including rooms in private apartments and hostels), and the remaining 6% with relatives. In addition to the continuous increase in the number of referrals, aggravating factors identified in previous years also persisted. This includes significant delays in transiting to private accommodation provided by other organisations, the lack of available apartments and increased rental prices. Between August and October 2019, CPR had to suspend the provision of reception to new adult applicants (with the exception of particularly vulnerable applicants such as pregnant women and families with children) due to overcrowding of CAR and cash flow issues hindering reception in hostels and private accommodation. Applicants arriving within such periods were provided accommodation directly by SEF in hotels in different parts of the country. During such period, a constructive dialogue between CPR and the Government was maintained, with both parties working towards common solutions.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Excessive use of detention: Detention of asylum seekers was one of the issues covered in the recent Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture. The excessive use of detention, the lack of individualised assessments and detention of children were among the concerns observed by both Committees.
- Detention conditions: In a report published in 2019 (referring to events that occurred in 2018), the Ombudsman analysed detention conditions in border detention facilities and in the Unidade Habitacional de Santo António (UHSA). Significant deficiencies were reported in border detention facilities namely with regard to the characteristics of the facilities, access to personal belongings, food, contacts with the exterior, identification of vulnerable applicants, access to legal assistance, and access to healthcare. Moreover, while underlining that the Ministerial Order on detention of children adopted in 2018 was a positive development and acknowledging some of the challenges involved, the Ombudsman also considered that the conditions in border detention facilities are inadequate to children, even for periods of up to 7 working days.
Content of international protection
- Cessation of protection status: In 2019, 98 decisions to cease subsidiary protection were adopted, of which 75 concerned Ukrainian nationals. This represents a significant change in practice as no cessation decisions were adopted by the authorities in 2017 and 2018. CPR identified shortcomings in cessation procedures, including the lack of renewal of the residence permits while the cessation proceeding was pending and the poor quality of the assessment conducted on the change in circumstances in the country of origin. Such shortcomings are similar to those identified back in 2016 when cessation procedures had been initiated for subsidiary protection status holders from Guinea.
 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Portugal, CRC/C/PRT/CO/5-6, 9 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2G1F07z.
 UN Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations on the seventh periodic report of Portugal, CAR/C/PRT/CO/7, 18 December 2019, available at https://bit.ly/2G1F07z; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Portugal, CRC/C/PRT/CO/5-6, 9 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2G1F07z.