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. The authorities can cooperate with other public entities and/or private non-profit organisations within 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 bilateral MoUs, the resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 103/2020 of 23 November 2020, establishing a single system of reception and integration of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection, and the internal regulations of the Single Operative Group (SOG) it created.
According to the Resolution, the main features of the single system of reception and integration are as follows:
- The 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 of the SOG ensures its coordination and is composed by ACM, SEF and ISS;
- The extended line-up of the SOG develops technical and operational tasks. In addition to ACM, SEF and ISS it 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 SOG;
- 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.
Within the framework of the SOG, three subgroups have been created so far to handle operational matters: the social monitoring subgroup, the unaccompanied children subgroup, and the programmed arrivals subgroup.
In practice, the following entities are competent to provide reception conditions to spontaneous applicants, depending on the type and stage of the procedure and/or the profile of the applicant:
- The Institute for Social Security (ISS) provides 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. CPR also provides for material reception conditions to unaccompanied children within 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) is responsible for the provision of material reception conditions within the context of border procedures and procedures in detention following a removal order (see Conditions in Detention Facilities).
The social monitoring subgroup of the SOG replaced the previous structure for referral and follow up on the provision of reception conditions to spontaneous asylum seekers. The group is composed by ACM, CPR, ISS, SCML and SEF, and meets twice a month. The extended line-up of the SOG meets once a month.
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: (i) the suspensive effect of appeals, and (ii) 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.
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’. To date, ISS has interpreted this provision as referring to the social pension (pensão social) that, in 2022, stood at € 213.91 per month. According to the information provided by ISS, cases are reassessed every three months and the provision of material reception conditions is maintained where indicators of a lack of resources subsist.
Asylum seekers can be requested 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 they might have.
In practice, the majority of spontaneous asylum applicants are systematically referred by SEF and benefit from the provision of material reception conditions by CPR in the framework of admissibility and accelerated procedures on the territory. This has been done without a strict assessment of resources by SEF as most 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.
Access to CPR’s Refugee Reception Centre (Centro de Acolhimento para Refugiados, CAR) that accommodates isolated adults and families 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. 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 access to paid employment is, in practice, limited at this stage.
Following admission to the regular procedure, or if the application is deemed inadmissible or is rejected in an accelerated procedure, the asylum seeker is referred CPR to the Single Operative Group (SOG) through its social monitoring subgroup. The SOG decides on the provision of material reception conditions in the regular procedure (by ISS), or at appeal stage (by SCML), based on an individual report that includes information on the socio-economic circumstances of the individual. Given that asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure are often unemployed, and lack financial resources, it is not common to cease the provision of material reception conditions at this point.
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 the event of a refusal to accept the geographical dispersal policy 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).
 Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 103/2020 of 23 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3oBLXQm.
 In 2022, a new SOG sub-group was created in order to address the area of vulnerabilities within the asylum system. It is composed by ACM, CPR, ISS, SCML, SEF, and UNHCR. According to the information available at the time of writing, the sub-group will be led by UNHCR during the first semester of 2023, and will identify services and mechanisms to address specific vulnerabilities.
 Article 61(1) Asylum Act.
 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 301/2021. According to the referred Decree-Law, the social pension is measure of solidarity to offer social protection to the most vulnerable populations. It is provided, among others, to nationals, who are not entitled to a pension from the contributory social security system who lack any revenue or whose revenue is below the value of the social pension (Article 1).
 Article 56(4) Asylum Act.
 Article 56(5) Asylum Act.