“Portugal has responsibility to people who enter country”
Portugal’s Ombudsman of Justice sees authorities’ delays in processing residence permits as “a serious problem” that she believes fails people trying to enter this country.
Speaking to State news service Lusa, Maria Lúcia Amaral stressed this is a “very sensitive area” which “has been growing”.
While people don’t have residency (or at least proof that the process is underway) they “don’t have many other things”, she explained. “Portugal has a responsibility towards people who enter the country”.
The interview was clearly focused on problems faced by ‘immigrants’ as opposed to ‘foreigners’ – a term that is generally used to suggests higher social bracket..
Stressed Amaral: “We need immigrants who come to work with us and then we delay, we take a long time to regularise their stay in national territory” (…) this is an area where complaints have originated “along with the issue of social housing”.
She told Lusa: there are already half a million legalised immigrants living in Portugal “a number that reflects a new reality” which has “never been as high as it is now.
“Until now, we have had the capacity to intervene and help people in specific cases and that is why more and more people are coming. It’s a very impressive thing, which impresses me a lot”, she added. But it is also an area that is bringing with it complaints when people feel they are being let down.
And as a result of these complaints, and the numbers of immigrants addressing them in person to the offices of the Ombudsman in Lapa, Lisbon, plans are underway to move the office to a more central area “near an underground station”.
Lusa presented this decision as being because Lapa is a “chic” neighbourhood “full of embassies with no Metro station or other easy accesses (…) not in fact the best location for those who wish to contact the Ombudsman’s services”.
Maria Lúcia Amaral – Portugal’s first female Ombudsman, who took up the post in 2017 – admitted that social housing (or rather the lack of it) has been the reason for the growing number of complaints – “many of them related to the difficulty of understanding and accepting decisions taken in this field, both by central administration, and by local authorities.
She acknowledged there have always housing problems when it comes to immigrants, but said that nowadays “they are more and more complex”.
The bulk of complaints to the Ombudsman still centre, however, on the sloth of Social Security, she added.
“In 2018, 2019, it was brutal. (Complaints) were up to more than 30% of total complaints. They are still very important, but they are no longer as much of a majority as they used to be,” she said.
“Social Security issues continue to be determinant” for the other “very important reason” which has to do with the fact that there is no regulatory body to defend people, “unlike what happens in health, so they are more vulnerable”.
“If the Ombudsman exists, it is precisely to respond to these situations in which people are particularly vulnerable because of the malfunctioning of administrative services,” she said.