Last-minute second-thoughts see Syrian family-of-five opt against asylum in Portugal

What was billed as the arrival of 22 refugees in Lisbon over the weekend ended up being only 17 as a family-of-five changed their minds “at the last minute” after months of bureaucracy had held up the asylum process.

The group that did finally touch down in Portela airport has nothing to do with the 4,500 refugees earmarked for arrival over the next two years, stress newspapers.

The weekend arrivals came as a result of a United Nations national reinstallation programme, and were made up of Syrians as well as people fleeing Eritrea and the Sudan.

President of Portugal’s refugee council, Teresa Tito Morais, said in a short welcoming ceremony: “Our expectation is that these people will find in Portugal a safe port, peace and stability. We want to promote the integration of the children into the education system, the learning of the language and insertion into training programmes to give access to the labour market, with immediate effect.”

Little was said about the family who had opted not to come to Portugal, other than refugees are “always” at liberty to change their countries of choice.

The arrivals on Saturday “brought most of their belongings in plastic bags”, writes national tabloid Correio da Manhã, adding that the women all wore traditional Muslim garb.

The families were taken to institutions in Penela, Lisbon and Sintra.

Meantime, more than a month after the EU refugee quotas were defined – giving Portugal the 4,500 total of refugees to be absorbed over the next two years – no-one seems any the wiser as to when the first intake will be arriving, Rui Marques of the refugee support programme (PAR) has told Rádio Renascença.

“It really is lamentable that member states and European institutions cannot resolve the elementary, which is to comply with the decision and take in 160,000 refugees through various countries,” he said.

Marques added that there appears to be “a lack of political will”, but stressed he hoped Portugal’s first arrivals as per the EU quotas would be here before the end of the month.

Marques was backed up by Teresa Tito Morais who called the delay “inadmissible and shocking”.

As the issue comes more and more into the public eye, the national press has been peppered with articles explaining how refugees, when they finally make it here, will be entitled to free medicine, a family GP and free university education.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: Refugees from Egypt arriving at Lisbon airport on November 7