Close to 300 refugees have already fled Portugal as government refutes failures in placement programme

A newspaper investigation has reignited the controversy over the EU’s ‘leaky’ refugee placement programme.

According to Diário de Notícias, already close to 300 of the 957 refugees ‘welcomed’ over the last year have ‘disappeared’.

In many cases, they involve “whole families”, but there are also multiple incidences of single people who ‘get up and go to parts unknown’, after being purportedly ‘settled’ on national soil.

While the government is still not openly prepared to “assume failures in refugee integration”, police forces are concerned, says the paper.

“On the one hand, these refugees become illegal in the EU”, it explains – as they are “obliged to stay in the country that takes them in” – but principally, concerns centre on the fact that they “have suffered the horrors of war, many of them via dramatic boat crossings of the Mediterranean” and are thus “vulnerable”. Security authorities fear that refugees’ ensuing “frustration at the way they are received or through being obliged to go to countries they don’t want to go to, could make them targets for criminal or terrorist gangs”, says DN, stressing this is a phenomenon that “is not exclusively Portuguese”.

An EU migrations source told the paper that measures are in hand to stem the exodus, but they are essentially bureaucratic: staggering payments to institutions that take the refugees in (so as to dissuade ‘breaks for freedom’) and enforcing repatriation to country of asylum when refugees are found in parts of Europe that did not take them in.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes doubts these ‘sticking plaster’ solutions will make much difference.

The problem she says is that the programme is flawed. “It doesn’t work”, and people placed in southern Europe who wanted to live in northern Europe will just take matters into their own hands.

“They accept to come here in despair”, Gomes explained. “These are often qualified people, with very clear ideas of where they want to go in life. They have friends in Germany or Switzerland. That’s where they want to be”.

The Socialist MEP added that despite the programme’s stipulation that people should remain in the country that takes them in, once refugees have arrived in Portugal, they are essentially “free to circulate throughout Schengen”.

But there are other reasons that prompt so many to leave: bureaucracy and protectionism.

Gomes cited the example of a qualified Syrian dentist who has been trying for over a year to get her qualifications ‘accepted’ by the relevant dentists’ order.

“It’s outrageous”, said the MEP. “I have been trying to help as much as I can, and still we have not managed to see her cleared to start working.

“Qualified people would stay in Portugal, but conditions for them have to be right for them to do so – and so far, the programme is fragmented, with professional orders taking a much too defensive attitude”, she added.

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