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President Obama praises Portugal for “new commitments” to take in even more refugees

With world leaders in New York focusing on Europe’s refugee crisis, outgoing US president Obama gave what will be his last speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he praised Portugal for its “new commitments” to take in more refugees.

“I want to praise Germany, Canada, Austria, the Netherlands and Australia for their continued leadership, as well as countries like Argentina and Portugal for their new commitments”, were his words.

Portuguese prime minister António Costa has said the country is prepared to double the quota set by Europe for 5000 arrivals on national soil. In other words, Portugal could take in as many as 10,000 asylum seekers once they have been duly processed in various camps.

The system is painfully slow and mired with bureaucracy, and so far only 534 refugees have settled here – though State Minister Eduardo Cabrita told national radio Antena 1 earlier this week that the country hopes to welcome 500-600 more by the end of the year.

NEW ARRIVALS “CONTROLLED BY POLICE AND SECRET SERVICES”

What has not been so largely publicised is the extent to which incoming asylum seekers are screened by Portugal’s police and secret services.

Diário de Notícias explains that “every week” there is an item on the UCAT (anti-terrorist coordination unit) meeting, entitled: “Situation of Refugees in Portugal”.

It is a practice that began “the moment the first groups fleeing the war in Syria arrived in our country, and its objective is to maintain a discreet eye on the integration of these people”.

The reason, says the paper, is that “processes of unsuccessful integration make refugees more vulnerable to becoming targets of terrorist radicalisations”.

Thus, police and secret services here confer on “any incident or situation that could be considered suspect”.

“Prolonged absences from homes, contacts with strange foreigners, anti-social behaviour”, these are just some of the signs that border control authority SEF and GNR agents are on the look-out for, says DN.

The “control” is performed “indirectly”, the paper adds.

Refugees are not bugged or watched by close-circuit television, but “through regular contacts with local entities involved in caring for them, namely borough councils, social workers and NGOs”.

“None of this framework has been reported” elsewhere in the press, says DN. Indeed certain papers have concentrated on situations where refugees are said to have had enough of the lack of facilities offered them by Portugal and left the country (click here).

Quoting SEF bosses, DN suggests these numbers are in fact “very reduced”, but admits that no-one is prepared to reveal them.

Nonetheless, the article will go some way to satisfying people that systems are indeed in place to ensure refugee integration works, for everyone concerned.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com