"It takes longer to get thru passport control at Lisbon airport than it does to fly here. #brexit"

Airport misery to persist: SEF takes government to court

SEF “has doubts over legality” of PSP/ GNR taking over its duties

The misery – and shame – of scenes affecting international airline passengers in Lisbon yesterday seems set to persist as SEF borders agency has said it will be taking the government to court.

The wrangle centres on the government plan to circumnavigate future passport control horrors by drafting in GNR and PSP agents to pick up SEF’s slack.

SEF’s union, however, sees this as an attack on “the rights, freedoms and guarantees” of its members.

That this inability to welcome overseas travellers with even a modicum of efficiency comes at the very start of summer tourism season is all the more damaging to Portugal’s reputation as a world class holiday destination.

“If situations like this are repeated it will be very bad for the national economy” TV commentator Luís Marques Mendes said on his regular Sunday evening slot on SIC television news – but SEF has its own agenda and seems incapable of negotiating any kind of middle ground.

Renato Mendonça, president of the agency’s syndicate of frontier inspectors, told Lusa the root of this impasse lies in SEF’s ‘extinction’ – something most people concede has been done with the finesse of a blind-folded bull elephant.

SEF is extinct, but it is not extinct – and no one comes forward to explain what will happen to us in the future. This affects our professional lives, our family lives – the emotional stability of our workers”, he complained.

Mendonça is convinced the ghastliness experienced by international arrivals yesterday “will keep happening (…) It is a structural problem and this happens every day because there is a short period of time in the morning in which airports receive the greatest flux of flights; around 25,000 people more or less arrive, and there are only 16 passport control booths. It is impossible to process 25,000 people with just 16 booths. While this is not resolved, (chaos) will continue to happen”.

As for the court action, Mendonça told Lusa: “We are going to file [in court] a subpoena for protection of rights, freedoms and guarantees. It has to do with the fact that we have doubts concerning the implementation of the law of PSP and GNR police officers doing border control work bearing in mind that these are competencies that are not yet assigned to them because law 73 has not fully entered into force. Either they enforce the law in its entirety, or else we have doubts that they can carry out this type of work”.

The interview between Renato Mendonça and Lusa shows there is much more to yesterday’s drama than SEF’s decision to hold a ‘plenary meeting’ between 6am-9am.

ANA Airports authority has stressed it finds the situation “unacceptable and very worrying” – but up till now it has not come forwards with any solutions.

Meantime, another leading syndicate leader, Acácio Pereira, has written (another) column in tabloid Correio da Manhã, clearly attempting to force the government to reconsider SEF’s extinction.

He stresses a recent poll “demonstated that the majority of Portuguese contest the ending of SEF“, understanding “well that there is no-one with knowledge of internal security who considers it useful for the country to bring an end to a security service and criminal police agency that specialises in borders and the protection of victims of human trafficking”.

Pereira adds that “not one technical report” was presented to parliament in favour of the extinction of SEF. “Former members of the security services, even former ministers and Socialist secretaries of state publicly defend the preservation of SEF”, which, in his mind needs “reorganisation (…) without bringing an end to an institution that has afforded Portugal with such good results”.

The problem with Mr Pereira’s column is that he has not read the room: not one of the 4,500 international visitors yesterday saw any indication of SEF’s ‘good results’: they simply saw shambolic, inconsiderate chaos.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com