The Development of the Asylum Law and Refugee Protection Regimes in Portugal, 1975-2017

By Sousa, Lucio; Costa, Paulo M. | Refuge, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

The Development of the Asylum Law and Refugee Protection Regimes in Portugal, 1975-2017


Sousa, Lucio, Costa, Paulo M., Refuge


Abstract

This article examines the development of the legislation on asylum law and refugee policies in Portugal. The assessment begins in 1975, the year when democracy was re-established in the country, following the 1974 Carnation Revolution, and ends in 2015, the year the European asylum crisis started. We want to discuss whether, during this period, the policies established indicate an open regime, with an integrationist perspective, or whether they proclaim a closed regime with an exclusivist position; in other words, whether the asylum system promoted an active policy of receiving and integrating refugees, or whether the policies pursued intended to limit the access of refugees to the borders of the state. In order to understand these developments, we analyze asylum application figures and asylum laws, trying to understand the main circumstantial contexts that influence them, namely Portugal's integration in the European Union.

Resume

Cet article examine l'elaboration, au Portugal, de la legislation concernant les politiques relatives au droit d'asile et aux refugies. Cet examen debute en 1975, annee du retablissement de la democratie dans le pays a la suite de la Revolution des CEillets en 1974, et s'arrete en 2015, annee oU debute la crise europeenne de l'asile. Il s'agit pour nous de discuter si, au cours de cette periode, les politiques etablies signent un regime d'ouverture, dans une perspective integrationniste, ou si elles declarent un regime ferme, signant une position exclusiviste; en d'autres termes, si le systeme d'asile promeut une politique active d'accueil et d'integration des refugies, ou si les politiques poursuivies ont pour objectif de limiter l'acces des refugies aux frontieres de l'Etat. Pour comprendre l'elaboration de ces politiques, nous analysons les chiffres de demandes d'asile et les lois sur l'asile en essayant de comprendre les principales circonstances contextuelles qui les influencent, en l'occurrence l'integration du Portugal a l'Union europeenne.

Introduction: General Overview

Within the European context, the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in Portugal over the last forty-one years is rather small. The annual average of asylum seekers is around just 400 applications a year (figure 1). This level had been surpassed only twice, 1980-1 and 1993-4. In 2015, the number of asylum applications increased, with 872 applications. However, in view of the figures recorded in Europe, the number of asylum seekers in Portugal is a relatively peripheral phenomenon. (1)

Until the 1980s, most asylum applications came from former Portuguese colonies, mostly Angola and Mozambique. This post-colonial configuration decreased with time and was replaced in the 1990s by other African countries, such as Serra Leone and Liberia. Over the last ten years, the patterns of the country of origin changed, with applicants coming from Eastern European countries, like the Ukraine, Asia (Pakistan and Afghanistan), and South America (mostly Colombians). In recent years there has also been a perceptible increase in applicants from Syria. (3)

The meagre data available regarding recognized refugees in Portugal (4) allow us to conclude that few have been granted refugee status. In fact, despite the number of applications submitted, refugee status, including residence permits for humanitarian reasons, was granted to only 1,605 people: 741 concessions for refugee status and 864 on humanitarian grounds (figure 2). Refugee status was granted to more people in the 1980s. From the 1990s, permits given for humanitarian reasons surpassed refugee status concession figures.

Figures for the refugee population can be analyzed using UNHRC data. (6) According to its numbers, between 1976 and 1983, there were 7,600 people considered as refugees. We believe this number can be understood only within the social context at the time, with many people coming from former Portuguese colonies. …

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