The Asylum Act does not contain specific restrictions on the freedom of movement or grounds for residence assignment but provides for the duty of asylum seekers to keep SEF informed of their place of residence. Furthermore, the authorities may decide to transfer the asylum seekers from housing facilities when needed for an adequate decision-making process regarding the asylum application or to improve housing conditions.
Since 2012, the operational framework for the reception of asylum seekers in Portugal provides for a dispersal mechanism (see Criteria and Restrictions to Access Reception Conditions). Following the admissibility procedure and admission to the regular procedure, or if the application is deemed inadmissible or rejected in an accelerated procedure, the asylum seeker is generally referred by frontline service providers such as CPR to the GTO, using a standard individual monitoring report. The GTO meets at least once a month to discuss individual cases and decides on the provision of material reception conditions in the regular procedure (generally by ISS) or at appeal stage (by SCML) on the basis of the report and in accordance with existing reception capacity nationwide. This can either result in a dispersal decision implemented by local Social Security services for those admitted to the regular procedure or their placement in private housing in the Lisbon area under the responsibility of SCML for those who have appealed the rejection of their application.
When an asylum seeker needs to move to a different part of the country within this context, the trip (public transportation) is organised, and the cost covered, by ISS. CPR usually provides logistical support to the applicant. Applicants are informed about the travel arrangements in a language they understand, and it is standard practice for a member of ISS staff to be present on arrival.
In practice, according to the statistics shared by the ISS, as of December 2020 there were a total of 1323 spontaneous applicants and beneficiaries of international protection – including relocated persons – who benefited from ISS material support, residing in the following areas:
|Dispersal of applicants and beneficiaries of international protection receiving ISS support: 2020|
|Viana do Castelo||20|
Most asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection receiving material reception conditions from ISS in 2020 resided in Lisbon. Additionally, SCML supported a total of 1,276 individuals (of which 1,160 spontaneous asylum seekers, including cases from previous years), all of whom resided in Lisbon or in nearby districts due to difficulties in accessing the housing market in Lisbon (see Types of Accommodation).
There is some flexibility in the implementation of the dispersal policy. According to ISS, asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure may request a review of their dispersal decision and their accommodation in a particular area where accommodation, education, employment and/or health related grounds justify an exception (e.g., regarding unaccompanied children enrolled in schools, asylum seekers who are employed at the time of the decision or particularly vulnerable asylum seekers who benefit from specialised medical care in Lisbon. Otherwise, the refusal to accept the dispersal decision by failing to report to the local Social Security service or abandoning its support following the dispersal decision will generally result in the withdrawal of material reception conditions. According to the information available to CPR, once the dispersal decision is made by the GTO, asylum seekers are not subjected to onward dispersal decisions resulting in their move from the initial District of assignment. Nevertheless, CPR is aware of some cases where there is a subsequent move deemed adequate for the integration process.
Even though no research has been conducted to date to assess the impact of the dispersal policy, according to the information collected by CPR, the main concerns raised by asylum seekers include isolation, lack of interpreters and specialised mental health care, difficulties in accessing specialised legal assistance, including that provided by CPR due to the geographical distance, and lack of tailor-made integration services such as language training and vocational training. In this regard, ISS reported that its caseworkers continue to work with asylum seekers to overcome such obstacles.
According to the Statistical Report of Asylum 2020, the dispersal mechanism is considered good practice despite the implementation challenges. Among the challenges identified by the Report are: (i) the reluctance of applicants in moving from the Lisbon area to other parts of the country; (ii) the need to finetune the distribution criteria; and (iii) discrepancies in the response capacity of local Social Security services.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, temporary restrictions to freedom of movement were applied in Portugal (notably prohibitions to leave the municipality of residence without imperious reasons – as established in the law – for certain periods). None of the restrictions enacted during this period was specific to applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection.
 Article 15(1)(f) Asylum Act.
 Article 59(2) Asylum Act.
 At the time of writing the GTO met in average twice a month.
 It should be noted that in accordance with Article 59(2) Asylum Act, decisions ordering the transfer of asylum seekers from housing facilities can only occur when needed for an adequate decision-making process regarding the asylum application or to improve housing conditions.
 Observatory for Migration, Entrada, Acolhimento e Integração de Requerentes e Beneficiários de Protecção Internacional em Portugal – Relatório Estatístico do Asilo 2020, May 2020, p 141-142, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2MGYtB9.