A group of around 100 immigrants staged a protest in Lisbon on Sunday drawing attention to the practical impossibility of accessing SEF’s website to make an appointment for a residency applications. The overriding message coming out of the event was that immigrants feel they are being “treated like rubbish”.
The event’s organiser Brazilian Juliet Cristino told Lusa: “The main reason for this demonstration is despair. They (the system) obliges us to be searching 24 hours for an appointment slot. We are working people. We are not criminals. We pay taxes, and the government has to see this…”
Ms Cristino complained that there is an ‘organised mafia’ controlling appointments. Many immigrants only manage one on payment of hundreds of euros.
Anyone trying to get an appointment on their own can be faced with endless months of waiting – and that is just to get an approval that sends them to another platform to make a further booking.
Ms Cristino says she has been waiting two years already to regularise her situation in this country. What this means is that she is a virtual prisoner – with no right to travel, purchase a car or even find a job.
“We don’t have the right to go to another country, nor to live”, she told Lusa. “We’re stuck in this country. I cannot travel through the European Union because I don’t have a residency. We’re completely tied up. It is not just Brazilians and Africans, it is everybody. This is happening to all immigrants. We are treated like rubbish”.
This is another hugely embarrassing situation for a government that has promoted itself as welcoming immigrants and refugees.
Minister for Interior Administration Eduardo Cabrita admitted in parliament last month that SEF’s appointment system was showing an “illegitimate appropriation of online appointments”. He said the system was “in revision”, but that “erroneous practices overwhelmingly by some law offices” had already been identified.
At the time SEF told Lusa that all appointments for immigrants with residency applications were “completely full until October 30”. There is no provision for the opening of any new ones, the agency said.
The situation has been made all the more complicated by the government’s ‘extinction’ of SEF (a decision hotly contested within the agency itself, but which passed through parliament last week in the face of votes against by the majority of minority parties, but abstentions by Bloco de Esquerda and PAN that allowed PS Socialists to win the day).