Freedom of movement


Country Report: Freedom of movement Last updated: 12/05/23


Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

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.[1] 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.[2]

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 social monitoring sub-group of the SOG. The social monitoring sub-group meets at least twice 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). This is done on the basis of an individual monitoring report and in accordance with existing reception capacity countrywide. This can either result in a dispersal decision for those admitted to the regular procedure (with assistance provided by local Social Security services) or placement in private housing/hostels in the Lisbon area for those who have appealed the rejection of their application (under the responsibility of SCML).

 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 2022, a total of 1,762 applicants and beneficiaries of international protection benefited from ISS material support. The beneficiaries resided in the following areas:[3]

Dispersal of applicants and beneficiaries of international protection receiving ISS support: 2022
Area Number
Lisbon 726
Coimbra 191
Porto 167
Setúbal 149
Castelo Branco 121
Braga 83
Viseu 60
Santarém 54
Guarda 40
Viana do Castelo 38
Évora 29
Aveiro 26
Portalegre 24
Leiria 21
Vila Real 15

Source: Information provided by ISS (March 2023).


Most asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection receiving material reception conditions from ISS in 2022 resided in Lisbon. Additionally, SCML supported a total of 1,213 individuals, 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, and, according to CPR’s experience, the entities involved make an effort to take personal preferences into account. 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, see Responsibility for Reception). Otherwise, 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. ISS noted, however, that if the reinstatement of support is subsequently requested, the services do evaluate the individual situation.

According to the information available to CPR, once the dispersal decision is made by the SOG, asylum seekers are not subjected to onward dispersal decisions resulting in their move from the initial District of assignment.[4] Nevertheless, CPR is aware of cases where there is a subsequent move as 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), lack of tailor-made integration services such as language training and vocational training, inequalities in access to public services and lack of homogenisation of information provided by such services, and the absence of culturally relevant facilities/services in certain parts of the country.

According to the Statistical Report of Asylum 2022, the dispersal mechanism is generally considered an example of 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.[5] These are persisting implementation challenges, also mentioned in prior reports.




[1] Article 15(1)(f) Asylum Act.

[2] Article 59(2) Asylum Act.

[3] Figures below fifteen are not included.

[4] 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.

[5]  Observatório das Migrações (OM), Requerentes e Beneficiários de Proteção Internacional – Relatório Estatístico do Asilo 2022, June 2022, p.138, available in Portuguese at:

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