3. Recolocação de refugiados em Portugal: a visão de uma Especialista da Fulbright

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3. Recolocação de refugiados em Portugal: a visão de uma Especialista da Fulbright


The Fulbright Program

In 1945, United States (U.S.) Senator J. William Fulbright proposed a bill to use money from the sale of surplus war property to fund an international educational exchange.  President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law, and the U.S. Congress created the Fulbright Program. The world’s largest international scholar exchange program, is subsidized through U.S. governmental appropriations and is based on Fulbright’s belief that if we learn from each other, there will be fewer wars.  This exchange is based on a bi-lateral agreement, and participating nations sign an agreement with the U.S. Government.

Within the Fulbright Program is the “Fulbright Specialist” program, through which countries in any discipline and any country may request a “specialist” from a Fulbright database provide consultative services for a short period of time.  In this instance, Dr. Catarina Oliveira, Director of the Observatory for Migration, on behalf of ACM, requested someone in the area of refugee studies; she was sent a short list of “specialist” in the data base, and she made a selection.  It is through this program that I was invited to Lisbon. During this time, I have met with the High Commissioner for Migration and the Director of the Observatory for Migration and spoken with several staff at the Special Unit for the Support of Refugees, had several one-on-one presentations of several services offered through ACM, visited refugee programs in Lisbon, Braga, and S. Joao da Madeira, attended the RefuJobs launch in June, and conducted two all-day training programs with ACM staff. Additional meetings are scheduled with ISS and DGE. Currently, a report is being prepared for presentation to ACM, based on observations and recommendations about “best practices” in working with refugees, from which I extract the following text. My participation in this program at ACM in Lisbon began on May 21st and ends on June 21st, 2018.



The resettlement of refugees in Portugal has at least two significant benefits:  (1) It places Portugal on the world stage as a humanitarian player and participant in global social responsibility, and (2) with an aging population and a declining birthrate (CIA, 2017), it provides an effective and immediate solution to Portugal’s workforce needs. Thus, to increase its population size, strengthen its workforce, convey its humanitarian bent, and ensure the persistence of the society, Portugal will need to either, in the long-term increase its birthrate, or, in the short-term also participate further and more proactively in the resettlement of individuals from the increasing pool of refugees and those in refugee-like situations.

Ensuring a smooth and balanced integration of much needed newcomers will require the preparation and education of both migrants and the Portuguese population and may necessitate the allocation of additional public and new private resources for migrant integration. 

Despite perceptions that all movements of forced migration are to the developed world, data belie this.  Most people forced out of their homes move to countries closest to them. They rarely have, or leave with, the resources to move far.  Most move by foot either alone, with stealth, or in mass migrations.  Those who travel by boat to more distant lands may appear to be arriving in hordes, but they are proportionately few when compared to those who travel on foot and over land, to neighboring countries. Currently, 84% of all refugees live in developing countries. Germany is the only country in the Global North that received a significant number of the world’s refugees in 2015 and 2016, and, at eighth, it is near the bottom of the list.

Since 2015, Portugal has “relocated” a small number of refugees, primarily from Greece and Italy.  Portugal has also provided “humanitarian assistance” to refugees in the past two years. Unlike some countries in the EU that prefer not to accept any more refugees, particularly from Africa and the Middle East, the Portuguese government has agreed to take up to 10,000 people.  The European Commission, in its requirements for redistribution of entrants to EU countries, allocated specific numbers to individual EU Member States to share the burden of responsibility felt by a handful of Member States who have seen the entry of vast numbers of refugees since 2015.  Portugal with a legal requirement for 2,951, and a willingness to take up to 10,000 was expecting a large influx.  Until recently, most entrants into Portugal were voluntary migrants.

Under the European Commission’s relocation program, Portugal accepted 1,550 individuals, with 1,190 coming from Greece and another 360 from Italy.  Of these 517 are minors.  Syrians (833) composed the largest group, followed by Iraqis (338), and Eritreans (340).  One third of the entrants were female (ACM, 2017). They were found residences in 98 municipalities across the country, but more frequently along the northern and coastal areas.  Another 147 people were accepted and resettled from Turkey.

The nation has been surprised at the trickle that has arrived, and is particularly saddened that despite the enthusiasm and warmth with which refugees are welcomed, of those who have come, many indicated that Portugal was not their primary choice.  Several perceived it as a transit nation into the EU and more affluent and well-known countries such as Germany and Sweden. Of the approximately 1,600 that arrived from Greece and Italy, 42% relocated to other EU countries (Pelaez, 2017).

Such secondary migration is not unusual as refugees are not permitted to select where they are placed, and, like most migrants, they would prefer to choose residence based on perceived economic opportunities, family connections, social networks, and other personal factors. For example, in the U.S., that resettles more refugees than any other nation, secondary migration from one part of the country to another is commonplace despite loss of access to the resources and programs developed for them.  In each of the years of 2012 and 2013, about 70,000 refugees entered the U.S.  Within one year of arrival, when refugees can adjust their status to that of permanent resident, over 10,000 and 11,000, respectively, are known to have moved away from their initial resettlement area (Bloem & Loveridge, 2017).

In Portugal the relocation of refugees to areas either within Lisbon or to other areas around the country is managed by ACM’s Special Unit for the Integration of Refugees (NAIR), however, the process of integration is decentralized.  ACM’s “partner” in the receiving community, usually an NGO, has charge of housing, employment, and general integration, including providing access to health care and school enrollment for children.  The NGO mobilizes its own network of community services and resources, while ACM provides general oversight and guidance as needed. 


Strengths of Portuguese Resettlement

Policies of the Portuguese government clearly voice attitudes and sentiments that are welcoming and support the idea of immigrant integration.  The practitioners involved in the development and monitoring of the programs are passionate and highly committed to immigrant integration and have good working relationships with both public and nongovernmental organizations as well as with local communities around the country that implement the programs.

Once relocated, coordination and delivery of services for integration lie with ACM’s partner organization that has taken responsibility to settle the refugee in its community. Responsibility for connections between the “partner” organization and other resources in the local community lie with the partner, allowing a fair amount of autonomy within the constraints of policy and funding guidelines.  Collaborations with potential employers, local schools, faith institutions, private citizens, and volunteer organizations seem to be effective in establishing a grass-roots infrastructure for immigrant integration, and partners evidence substantial commitment to, and take pride in, immigrant well-being.

The specific integration programs identified above appear to be well thought through and developed, and each program appears to be functioning well with limited resources.  The staff is passionate and knowledgeable and committed to the success of its respective programs and projects.

The European Resettlement Network, coordinated by the IOM, the UNHCR, and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) identified some specific strengths of the program of integration in Portugal, namely: (1) NGO involvement in the planning and implementation of reception and integration services; (2) the provision of specialised support at the start of the integration programme in the reception centre; and (3) broad general support for resettlement, from both the political level and among the general public


Challenges to Resettlement Efforts

Challenges can always be expected with a new bent in governmental and social policies, and there are several universal challenges associated with most bureaucratic processes that can be unwieldy.  In my view, the current or potential challenges facing the refugee resettlement process in Portugal that may be addressed or precluded with preventative measures are:

Pre-departure preparation & post-arrival orientation: Refugees arriving through the relocation program appear to have little knowledge about the relocation program in Portugal or the Portuguese culture and are ill prepared for the limits of the support they can expect to receive. Barring the excellent “Welcome” packet they receive, the post-arrival orientation may be insufficient.

Coordination of specifics regarding migrant policies among relevant ministries: Front line service providers indicate that guidelines and implementation of several integration policies overlap between governmental ministries, nevertheless, inconsistencies regarding specific requirements and implementation processes pose significant hurdles. Delays in recognizing eligibility interferes with accessing resources and beginning employment.

Engaging frontline practitioners in policy decisions: Ensuring that all stakeholders are represented in policy decisions helps ensure that needs are addressed and the appropriate infrastructure is in place for integration. All programs require both a “top-down” and a “bottom-up” approach. Service providers indicate the lack of responsiveness by decision makers to their observations on program gaps and inconsistencies and recommendations for modification. 

Refugee recognition of their responsibility for integration: There are no consequences to noncompliance with integration expectations, such as participating in language classes or seeking employment. Several recent arrivals have evidenced an attitude of entitlement without a tandem obligation to participate in the processes of integration. The result can be local community backlash, as in other EU countries and as was evidenced by BREXIT.

Lack of mental health services: Given knowledge about the extent of refugee trauma, the absence of any mental health assessment or intervention for refugees is one glaring gap in the integration process. Refugees frequently suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues, but symptoms may not emerge immediately.

Economic integration: Preparation of the labor market and potential employers for hiring refugees may need further development. This includes mechanisms for academic degree and credential transfer, recognition of skills, and preparation of workshops for refugees. While the “decentralized” approach of distributing refugees around the country eases the burden for service providers, the absence of a “core” of service recipients makes training programs inefficient.

Resettlement around the country: The distribution of refugees around the country may be practical from Portugal´s perspective and also minimizes the development of an immigrant nucleus that can result in negative host country reaction.  However, it comes with a number of challenges: Inefficiency in service provision with duplication; lower economic integration, success, and mobility (Konle-Seidl & Bolits, 2016); more welfare dependency than those who are not dispersed (Konle-Seidl & Bolits, 2016); and isolation from others of similar backgrounds.

Public attitudes and awareness: Results of studies in which respondents are anonymous indicate concern about the effects of outsiders with different cultures, an “inability” to fit in, and the usurping of local jobs (Chaparro, 2017, McGaley, 2016).

Over involvement of service providers: The number of refugees resettled in several of the municipalities, particularly those outside Lisbon, is small. Many service providers are extensively involved in the daily lives of refugee families, providing such assistance that the lines between the professional and personal appear blurred.  Refugee autonomy and provider professionalism can both be compromised.

The European Resettlement Network also identified some specific challenges Portugal faces in the successful implementation of the program of integration, namely: (1) Delays and challenges in the selection and transfer or resettled refugees resulting in late and concentrated arrivals over a short period of time; (2) The lack of an inclusive government-led coordination structure offering policy and operational guidance and involving all relevant stakeholders; and (3) Insufficient involvement of key stakeholders at central and local levels, such as by the Institute for Employment and Professional Training (IEFP) in the national programme and municipalities in reception and integration services.


Other Areas of Discussion

Duration of the integration program: The six months that the U.S. provides for housing assistance is much too short and increases refugee stress, while Portugal’s 18+ months assistance may give rise to dependence and complacency. Furthermore, although the EU currently provides support for relocated refugees, once Portugal moves into the refugee resettlement program, under the UNHCR mandate, and following the European Commission’s “50,000 Program,” it will be entirely responsible or the resettlement and integration costs of all refugees it admits.  It may not have the luxury of offering refugees 18-months to resettle or, with increasing refugee numbers, the ability to provide such close attention and personalized support.

Core principles for refugees’ integration: For Papadopoulou et al (2013:46) the core principles of integration (in a two way process) are: (1) Empowering refugees, fostering independence; (2) Enabling integration; (3) Enhancing partnerships, planning together; and (4) Strengthening receiving communities. To accomplish this, and recognizing that, without planning, refugees usually leave their homes with few tangible resources that can sustain them in the destination country.  It is recommended that the host country provide the following opportunities for refugee integration: (a) A dynamic labor market and low economic support; (b) Equal access to education and mechanisms for credential recognition; (c) Path to economic progress; (d) Increased opportunities for cultural exchange and fluency; (e) Opportunities for civic engagement; (f) Access to citizenship, home ownership, and intermarriage; (g) Culturally competent mental health services.

Likewise, expectations of refugees must require that they (a) accept and absorb rules and regulations of receiving country, (b) respect and indicate responsibility to values of destination country; (c) learn the language and increase cultural fluency, (d) Integrate socially and Increase civic involvement, and (e) utilize available host country resources to enhance self-sufficiency.

Inspiring and good practices: Several EU Member States and the U.S. have identified a number of good practices as well as challenges in resettling refugees.  Both the context and specific situations are essential, and the receiving nation is able to manage the context. In preparation the receiving nation must have in place: (1) A coordinated infrastructure for the implementation of policies and laws to ensure quick access to legal status, rights, and resources; (2) Consultative and collaborative engagement of all stakeholders – public, nonprofit, and private; (3) A systematic integration program with appropriate supports for essential services, namely, housing, transportation, employment, health, education, and mental health; (4) A trained, culturally aware and competent workforce with an understanding of the uniqueness of the refugee experience; and (5) A welcoming and hospitable community.

In addition, refugees must be prepared to resettle, understanding not only their rights but also their commitments and having a realistic set of expectations about the resettlement country and the process.  It is the responsibility of the host country representatives and/or the screening individuals at the point of origin to apprise refugees of the realities of resettlement.

In each instance, objective measureable outcome goals should be identified to determine the success of efforts. While process measures may be necessary (i.e. the refugee attends two weekly language classes), what matters is outcome.  These outcome, as well as process, measures must be determined along with each program’s development, including in Portugal.


No âmbito do Dia Mundial do Refugiado, dia 20 de junho de 2018, o Alto Comissariado para as Migrações, ACM, I.P. promove a realização de uma sessão dedicada ao tema “Refugees Worlwide – Global Perspectives”, com Uma A. Segal, Professora da University of Missouri – St. Louis, dos Estados Unidos da América  e especialista da Fullbright. A sessão será antecedida pelo lançamento da App My CNAIM e do Fórum Migrante, num encontro a decorrer a partir das 10:00, no Átrio da Casa do Futuro do Museu das Comunicações, em Lisboa, com a participação da Secretária de Estado para a Cidadania e a Igualdade, Rosa Monteiro, na sessão de abertura.