Responsibility for reception
The primary responsibility for the provision of material reception conditions lies with the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, the responsibility for reception lies with the Ministry of Employment, Solidarity and Social Security for asylum seekers who pass the admissibility procedure and are in the regular procedure. Moreover, the authorities can cooperate with other public entities and/or private non-profit organisations in the framework of a MoU to ensure the provision of such services.
The practical framework for the reception of asylum seekers in Portugal currently stems from both bilateral MoUs, and a multilateral MoU between relevant stakeholders. The latter is coordinated by a Steering Commission (Comissão de Acompanhamento, CA) presided by the Institute of Social Security (Instituto da Segurança Social, ISS). The Memoranda provide for an overall responsibility-sharing mechanism among stakeholders according to which different entities provide reception conditions depending on the type and stage of the procedure and/or the profile of the applicant:
- The Institute for Social Security (ISS) offers material receptions conditions to asylum seekers in the regular procedure;
- Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML) assists asylum seekers who have submitted an appeal against a Dublin decision or a first instance decision (with the exception of a first instance decision in the regular procedure) as well as certain categories of asylum seekers in the regular procedure (e.g., vulnerable cases such as unaccompanied children initially accommodated at CACR that move into assisted apartments and former unaccompanied children initially accommodated at CACR; or individuals and families with strong social networks in the Lisbon area);
- The Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR) provides reception services to asylum seekers in the admissibility (including Dublin) and accelerated procedures on the national territory. As regards unaccompanied children, CPR also provides for material reception conditions in the regular procedure and at appeal stage in accordance with protective measures adopted by Family and Juvenile Courts in the framework of the Children and Youths at Risk Protection Act (see Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children).
- The Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) retains responsibility for material reception conditions in border procedures and procedures in detention following a removal order (see Conditions in Detention Facilities).
While this mechanism was still in place at the end of the year, in November 2020, a much-anticipated resolution of the Council of Ministers establishing a single system of reception and integration of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection was published. According to the Resolution, the main features of this single system are as follows:
- The single system covers all applicants and beneficiaries of international protection, including unaccompanied children, resettled refugees, and relocated asylum seekers;
- A Single Operative Group (SOG) is established. The SOG has a restricted and an extended line-up;
- The restricted line-up ensures the coordination and is composed by ACM, SEF and ISS;
- The extended line up develops technical and operational tasks and, in addition to ACM, SEF and ISS also includes: the Directorate General for Higher Education (DGES), DGEstE, Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth (IPDJ), IEFP, ANQEP, SCML, ACSS, DGS, and IHRU. The resolution further establishes that other entities with competences in the fields of reception and integration, namely CPR, are also part of this line up.
- ACM is responsible for organising periodic meetings (at least one every month), providing logistical and administrative support, and preparing the regulation of the Single Operative Group;
- The resolution further details the responsibilities of ACM, SEF and ISS within the context of the SOG;
- The SOG is established for 5 years with possibility of extension. Instruments concerning reception and integration of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection in force must be adjusted to the provisions of the resolution.
The right to reception and sufficient resources
The law provides for the right of asylum seekers to material reception conditions regardless of the procedure they are in, with the exception of a possible withdrawal or reduction of those conditions in the case of “unjustified” subsequent applications. Asylum seekers are entitled to support from the moment they apply for asylum, and until a final decision is reached on their asylum application, without prejudice to the suspensive effect of appeals and the provision of material reception conditions beyond the final rejection in case of ongoing need for support on the basis of an individual assessment of the applicant’s social and financial circumstances.
Furthermore, there is a requirement in the law according to which only asylum seekers who lack resources are entitled to material reception conditions. The law provides for criteria to assess the sufficiency of resources that consist in either the lack thereof or a level of financial resources which is inferior to the “social support allowance” provided in the law. To date, ISS has interpreted this provision as referring to the social pension (pensão social) that in 2020 stood at € 211.79 per month. According to the information provided by ISS, internal procedures determine that cases are reassessed every three months and the provision of material reception conditions is maintained where the indicators of a lack of resources remain.
Asylum seekers can be called to contribute, or reimburse, partly or in full, the cost of material reception conditions and health care depending on the level and the point in time when the authorities become aware of their financial resources. However, neither the law nor administrative guidelines specify at what point the asylum seeker is required to declare any financial resources he or she might have.
In practice, the majority of spontaneous asylum applicants are systematically referred by SEF and have benefited from the provision of material reception conditions by CPR in the framework of admissibility and accelerated procedures on the territory. This was done without a strict assessment of resources by SEF as many asylum seekers had recently arrived in the country and were considered as being manifestly in need of assistance. In cases where they had financial resources or relatives in Portugal, certain asylum seekers chose not to benefit from the accommodation provided by CPR. Along with the fact that asylum seekers are not entitled to access paid employment at this stage (see Access to the Labour Market), that encouraged a system based on trust.
In the case of referrals to CPR’s Refugee Reception Centre (Centro de Acolhimento para Refugiados, CAR) that accommodates isolated adults and families, access is dependent on written referral from SEF-GAR. The transition from border facilities to reception centres within the territory is carried out smoothly in general. As for unaccompanied children, referral by SEF to CPR’s CACR is made by the most expedient means available such as telephone or email, and children released from the border, are escorted by SEF to the premises. Finally, for those asylum seekers who have opted for private housing with relatives, the provision of material reception conditions such as financial assistance by CPR is dependent on the presentation of an individual certificate of the asylum application. CPR does not proactively engage in means assessments for the duration of the provision of material reception conditions given that asylum seekers are not entitled to access paid employment at this stage of the procedure.
Following admission to the regular procedure, or if the application is deemed inadmissible or is rejected in an accelerated procedure, the asylum seeker is generally referred by frontline service providers such as CPR to the Technical Operative Group (Grupo Técnico Operativo – GTO) using a standard individual monitoring report. The GTO decides on the provision of material reception conditions in the regular procedure (by ISS), or at appeal stage (by SCML), based on the report that includes information on the socio-economic circumstances of the individual. According to the information available to CPR, in 2020, some asylum seekers were not provided material reception conditions at this stage on the grounds that they were working. This has not been common as, at this stage, asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure are often unemployed, despite being provided access to the labour market.
While spontaneous asylum applicants do not face systematic obstacles in gaining access to available material reception conditions (e.g., due to delays in the issuance of the individual certificate of the asylum application or a strict assessment of resources), some concerns remain regarding access to support. These include the provision of support by CPR to asylum seekers accommodated in private accommodation in remote locations (e.g., due to the lack of information from SEF’s regional representations regarding available assistance and costs associated with travel and communications for initial and follow-up interviews with social workers at CPR). Another concern stems from the potential exclusion of asylum seekers from material reception conditions in the regular procedure in case of refusal to accept the dispersal policy in place managed by the GTO (see Freedom of Movement).
 This includes admissibility procedures (including Dublin procedures); accelerated procedures, border procedures, subsequent applications and applications following a removal decision: Article 61(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 61(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 61(1) and (2) in fine Asylum Act.
 Notably MoUs between the Ministry of Home Affairs / SEF and CPR, between ISS and CPR, and between the ISS and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML).
 The initial signatories in 2012 included the SEF, ISS, SCML, CPR, ACM and the Employment and Vocational Training Institute (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional, IEFP). In 2014, the partnership was extended to include the Directorate General for Health (Direcção-Geral da Saúde, DGS), the Central Administration of the Health System (Administração Central do Sistema de Saúde, ACSS), the Directorate General of Education (Direcção-Geral da Educação, DGE), the Directorate General of Education Institutions (Direcção-Geral dos Estabelecimentos Escolares, DGEE), the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses, ANMP) and JRS. In 2018, the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (Agência Nacional para a Qualificação e o Ensino Profissional, ANQEP) also joined the partnership. ANQEP is a public entity responsible for the coordination of formative policies for young people and adults.
 The Steering Commission was assisted by a Technical Operative Group (Grupo Técnico Operativo, GTO) tasked, among others, with ensuring operational guidance and coordination of reception and integration services provided to spontaneous asylum seekers and resettled refugees at central and local levels.
 Article 61(1) Asylum Act.
 Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 103/2020 of 23 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3oBLXQm.
 Articles 51(1) and 56(1)-(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 60(3)(f) Asylum Act. The meaning of “unjustified subsequent application” seems to indicate that the potential withdrawal or reduction would only intervene at the end of the 10-day admissibility/preliminary assessment as per Article 33(4). According to the information available to CPR, such possibility was not enforced in 2018 and 2019, as SEF referred subsequent applicants in need of housing to the relevant entities.
 Articles 51(1), 56(1) and 2(1)(ae) Asylum Act that entitle third-country nationals or stateless persons who have “presented” an asylum application to material reception conditions. The presentation of the asylum application is to be understood as preceding the registration of the asylum claim under Article 13(1) and (7) Asylum Act.
 Article 60(1) Asylum Act.
 Articles 60(1) in fine and 30(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 60(2) Asylum Act.
 Articles 51(1) and 56(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 56(3) Asylum Act.
 Decree-Law 464/80 and Ministerial Order 28/2020.
 Article 56(4) Asylum Act.
 Article 56(5) Asylum Act.