A new home: facilitating asylum seekers' and refugees’ integration in Portugal
“At the Portuguese Red Cross we found a family! With your support, we have rebuilt our professional and social life. Our daughter is now growing healthy and in peace, and we feel truly grateful,” said the Dib family, composed of Ayman, Sali and Maria, from Syria, who live in Portugal since November 2016.
Back in 2015, the country played a key role in the implementation of the European Union’s relocation programme of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, with more than 1,500 transferred to its territory. Ever since, Portugal has been one of the Member States with a proactive approach to admitting forcibly displaced people from within and outside Europe, demonstrating solidarity with affected individuals and countries under pressure.
The government’s decision to increase the number of admitted protection seekers through relocation or resettlement has led to a spike in the demand for asylum reception facilities across regions. Whereas the primary responsibility for the provision of reception lies with the Ministry of Employment, Solidarity and Social Security, Portuguese authorities have turned to organisations and the civil society to ensure proper housing by setting up a decentralised hosting and integration programme.
With financial support from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), several projects have been developed to help individuals integrate to their host societies. Given its broad network of local offices and programmes, resources and activities for asylum seekers, the Portuguese Red Cross has been identified as one of the leading actors to provide housing and integration services to protection seekers – and they have supported 268 people to date.
The decentralised model suggested by Portuguese authorities includes positive aspects that foster integration at local level, as one of its main objectives is to bring closer asylum seekers and host communities. However, they rely largely on private housing identified by civil society actors, which may become problematic considering the country’s chronic housing problem: there is a lack of accommodation to rent at affordable prices, and differences between regions on the availability of services leads to discrepancies in the level of support beneficiaries receive. This in turn has created geographical imbalances in integration processes, and has prompted several relocated asylum seekers to move on to regions where their individual needs would be better addressed.
These shortcomings reveal how essential it is to promote an integration approach where specific vulnerabilities are adequately taken into account, and on a regular basis as their situation tends to evolve over time.
A multi-disciplinary approach
In its hosting and integration programme for refugees and asylum seekers, the Portuguese Red Cross follows a multi-disciplinary approach with a strong focus on individual empowerment. Support ranges from information provision, legal aid and translation of documents to initiatives to facilitate access to education and to the labour market, including language learning, community services, public health and social welfare. These actions are essential for people to be autonomous and feel welcome in their host communities.
Based on these successful experiences, since July 2020 the Portuguese Red Cross is a key partner in the country’s efforts to support unaccompanied minors relocated from Moria camp in Greece. Following Portugal’s pledge to transfer 500 children, the Portuguese Red Cross launched a new reception and integration project and has already created two shelters for 36 girls and boys. In each of the facilities, a team of 30 social workers, psychologists, teachers and translators provides dedicated services that address psychological trauma and other vulnerabilities.
A team member of the Portuguese Red Cross described the benefits of the Refugees’ and Asylum seekers’ Reception and Integration Programme this way: “It has been highly rewarding to work with asylum seekers and refugees. We feel that we build bridges and provide guidance to those who have experienced dangers on their journeys. It is nevertheless important to improve procedures, every day, and to invest both in raising the awareness of the entire community and in developing services to welcome refugees. Let us continue to work together to accomplish our mission – to support and promote humanity.”
Refugees' and Asylum seekers' Reception and Integration Programme