Conditions in reception facilities

Portugal

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 21/05/21

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The main form of accommodation used during admissibility, including Dublin, and accelerated procedures on the national territory are CPR’s (funded) private accommodation and reception centres. As regards the regular procedure and in the case of relocation, private accommodation is usually used (see Types of Accommodation). There is currently no regular monitoring of the reception system in place.

ISS is among the competent authorities for the licensing, the monitoring and the provision of technical support to the operation of reception centres for asylum seekers.[1] The applicable rules to collective accommodation facilities have been laid down by ISS regarding temporary reception centres for children at risk (such as CACR).[2] Furthermore, the law provides for specific standards regarding housing in kind for asylum seekers,[3] and children at risk such as unaccompanied children.[4] The specific material reception standards relevant to CAR and CACR are foreseen in the underlying bilateral MOUs (see Types of Accommodation) and their internal regulations.

CAR is composed of shared rooms with dedicated bathrooms/toilets and is equipped to accommodate asylum seekers with mobility constraints, e.g., it includes a lift and adapted bathrooms/toilets. The residents are expected to cook their own meals in a communal kitchen and have access to common fridges and cupboards. The centre also has a laundry service, a playground, a day-care/kindergarten for resident and local community children, as well as a library connected to the municipal library system and a theatre/event space that can be rented out. The centre provides psychosocial and legal assistance, Portuguese language training, socio-cultural activities, as well as job search support (see Access to the Labour Market). Logistical support staff is present 24 hours a day and the overall cleaning of the centre is carried out by a private company, though the residents are expected to contribute to the cleaning of their room and the common kitchen. According to the current reception strategy, in general, spontaneous asylum seekers are initially accommodated at CAR (after testing negative for Covid-19) for an initial period of 2 to 3 weeks during which social and health needs are identified and information on the host country is provided. Afterwards, the applicant moves to another accommodation with the support of CPR (either a hostel, apartment, or room in the private market). Vulnerable applicants remain in CAR if deemed appropriate. Support continues to be ensured by a specific team within CPR.

CACR offers unaccompanied children appropriate housing and reception conditions regardless of the stage of the asylum procedure. Given the specific needs and contexts involved, the average stay in 2020 stood at 305 days. The official  capacity stands at 13 places but the existing gap in specialised reception capacity has also resulted in overcrowding that has been partially averted by: changing arrangements in rooms to expand capacity while preserving adequate accommodation standards; resorting to separate accommodation of unaccompanied children above the age of 16 at the CAR and CAR II, supervised by the Family and Juvenile Court; and, depending on the individual circumstances, promoting the placement of children above the age of 16 in supervised private housing by decision of the Family and Juvenile Court in line with the protective measures enshrined in the Youths at Risk Protection Act.[6]

Although living conditions remain adequate, overcrowding puts a strain on the timing and the quality of support provided. To address overcrowding in the facility, CPR revisited its accommodation policy for unaccompanied children in 2019. While some were provisionally accommodated at CAR due to shortage of places at CACR, young applicants at more advanced stages of the integration process were transferred from CACR to CAR II in a process of progressive autonomy. This strategy continued to be applied in 2020.

Absconding and the subsequent risk of human trafficking remain relevant concerns. A total of 9 out of 84 (11%) unaccompanied children accommodated by CPR in 2020,[7] (see Special Reception Needs). In 2020, CACR’s team continued to report cases where unaccompanied children were suspected to be victims of human trafficking to the competent authorities (see Guarantees for Vulnerable Groups: Identification).

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the shortcomings in the reception system previously reported by CPR.

The provision of material reception conditions, in particular, housing to asylum seekers, was quickly flagged by CPR as a concern, both due to the communitarian setting of most accommodations available (shared kitchens, rooms, sanitary facilities and living spaces), and to systematic instances of overcrowding observed at the time.

Coronavirus contingency plans for all CPR facilities (particularly reception centres) were designed in early March and continuously adjusted considering relevant developments and recommendations from the competent authorities.[8] Such plans included, inter alia, the reactivation of rooms for isolation for health purposes in CAR and CAR2, the acquisition of personal protection equipment for staff and residents, and increased distribution of hygiene products such as hand sanitisers.

In the beginning of March, before the suspension of in-person activities, information sessions on the virus, and prevention of contagion were held in the reception centres. The sessions were organised in partnership with the Directorate General for Health (DGS) and with local health centres and conducted by healthcare professionals.

The continuity of social and integration-related support was ensured through the whole period, despite the necessary adjustments to service provision (e.g., whenever possible, information and assistance were provided by remote means).

On 17 April 2020, an asylum seeker accommodated in a hostel in Lisbon tested positive to Covid-19. The case was immediately communicated to the competent authorities. On 19 April 2020, a joint operation ensured that all applicants accommodated in the facility were tested and the building was disinfected.[9] Around 170 tests were performed, out of which 138 were positive, with only one person showing symptoms.[10] All persons tested were later transferred to a military base in Ota for the purpose of quarantine. CPR, ISS, ACM and SCML continued to accompany the cases during this period.[11]

Following these events, and in line with previous decisions to conduct testing operations in communitarian accommodation facilities (e.g., nursing homes), the health authorities decided to test all asylum seekers accommodated in other facilities in Lisbon. These were public health operations that included an information-sharing component and involved various governmental and non-governmental actors,[12] including CPR. Testing and necessary follow-up (including quarantining/prophylactic isolation) continued to be organised whenever deemed necessary and according to the specific features of the situations at stake.

Despite the dissemination of information on Covid-19 by CPR and other entities, asylum seekers reported feeling anxious and found it difficult to understand why they had to remain isolated since they were not feeling sick.

In the meantime, an integrated plan to address the impact of Covid-19 as well as the provision of accommodation to applicants for international protection was discussed under a Crisis Working Group, created by the end of April 2020, gathering an array of relevant stakeholders, including CPR.[13] This was a positive step to address the chronic reception problems. The measure, which was accompanied by a memorandum of understanding between CPR and SCML and an increase in the number of meetings of the GTO, allowed for a quick decrease in the number of asylum seekers benefiting from CPR’s support and, consequently, to address the quality of reception conditions.

Additionally, CPR worked towards a redistribution of accommodation places and the identification of alternative facilities. The maximum capacity of reception facilities was adjusted according to relevant recommendations.

Admission to reception facilities was also restructured in order to mitigate the risk of contagion among residents. As such, it comprises an initial period of prophylactic isolation until a negative Covid-19 test result is obtained.[14] During the isolation period, adults and accompanied children are accommodated in external accommodation, while unaccompanied children and other particularly vulnerable persons are accommodated in isolation rooms in one of CPR’s reception centres. During this period, CPR ensures the provision of meals and all other necessary goods.

The use of masks is mandatory to the staff of reception centres. In CAR, the residents must wear a mask in common spaces, counselling sessions and group activities. The body temperature of those entering the building is checked. In CACR, children are not required to wear masks inside. Body temperature checks are also performed.

Crescer, an association that provides support to vulnerable persons, reported having been approached by a growing number of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection due to the lack of (adequate) accommodation in 2020. The organisation also reported observing an increase of applicants for/beneficiaries of international protection requesting assistance due to a significant increase of unemployment.

As mentioned in Freedom of Movement, no research has been conducted to date on the impact of the dispersal component of the reception policy implemented by the GTO. According to information collected by CPR, there have not been systemic problems regarding the quality of private housing provided upon dispersal. However, there are difficulties in securing private housing in the Lisbon area with conditions that are up to the standard. More recently, the lack of affordable housing in other areas of the country has been also reported by the entities involved in the provision of reception conditions to applicants for international protection.

[1]  Decree-Law No 64/2007.

[2] These rules are contained among others in technical guidelines that provide for quality standards on issues such as capacity, duration of stay, composition and technical skills of staff, hygiene and security standards, location and connectivity, access to the building, construction materials, composition and size of the building, internal regulation, personal integration plans, activities planning, reporting and evaluation etc. An earlier version from 1996 is available at: http://bit.ly/2meygMC. According to the information available at: http://bit.ly/2mljDHo, the ISS has also adopted quality standards for other temporary reception centres (such as the CAR and the CATR) contained in technical guidelines dated 29 November 1996 (unpublished).

[3] Article 59 Asylum Act: protection of family life, including the unity of children and parents/legal representatives; right to contact relatives and representatives of UNHCR and CPR; adoption of adequate measures by the management of the facility to prevent violence, and notably sexual and gender-based violence.

[4]  Articles 52-54 Children and Youth at Risk Protection Act.

[5] Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/3gEoe1T.

[6]  Act 147/99.

[7]  These figures include unaccompanied children who applied for asylum before 2020.

[8]  See, for instance, DGS, Informação 010/2020, 8 May 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3dJ6mzQ.

[9] The following entities were involved in the operation: Civil Protection Authority, Municipality of Lisbon, SEF, National Medical Emergency (INEM), ACM, Public Security Police (PSP), Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML), Lisbon Firefighters and the Mosque.  

[10] See also Reuters, ‘Coronavirus sweeps through Portuguese hostel housing asylum seekers’, 20 April 2020, available at: https://reut.rs/2zvcATq.

[11] The full press release issued by CPR on 22 April 2020 is available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/350aeaV.  

[12]Secretary of State for Integration and Migration (SEIM), SEF, Municipality of Lisbon, Civil Protection Authority, Public Health Directorate, National Medical Emergency, High Commissioner for Migration (ACM), Institute of Social Security, Lisbon Firefighters, Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML), the Public Security Police (PSP), the Mosque and CPR

[13]  SEIM, SEF, PSP, Municipality of Lisbon, Civil Protection Authority, Public Health Directorate, National Medical Emergency, ACM, Lisbon Firefighters, SCML, Institute of Social Security and CPR.

[14]  Applicable if a negative test made in the 72 hours prior to arrival is not available.

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