SEF expects first 45 refugees to Portugal “at any moment”

With Europe locked in debate over how to deal with the relentless flow of migrants from Syria and North Africa, SEF border control agency has said it is expecting the arrival of Portugal’s first 45 refugees “at any moment”.

Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese, they are currently waiting for release from a refugee camp in Egypt and are not part of Portugal’s 2015 quota, which appears to be rising rapidly now, and is well on its way to becoming as many as 5000.

As Diário de Notícias explains this morning, the 45 are people “who should have arrived some time ago”.

SEF’s national director Luís Gouveia told DN, that the delay – caused by “bureaucratic problems in the country where they are installed” – is nonetheless almost at an end.

“We are waiting for the go-ahead from the international migrations organisation (IOM) to send the necessary plane tickets”, he explained.

In the intervening time, the migrants have been having Portuguese lessons and “reality updates” – a way of explaining to them that Portugal is not perhaps the “el Dorado” they had been hoping for.

“We’ve noticed that, on other occasions, people do seem not to have the least idea of the reality of this country”, said Gouveia. “They think they are coming to el Dorado”. The IOM uses its “reality check” procedure, to “ensure against refugees having unrealistic expectations of their host country”, he added.

For now, the logistics have all been put in place, and it is simply a case of waiting to receive the new arrivals.

DN writes that each family will be housed in a brand new 3-bedroom apartment and supported by a multinational team of experts, including an interpreter, Portuguese teacher, sociologist, psychologist, nurse and social worker.

The paper explains that Ukrainians and Tunisians are involved in the effort – the idea being they can share their own experiences of what it is like to be an immigrant – as well as Portuguese emigrés to France, again for similar reasons.

Work behind the scenes between Lisbon and Cairo has covered all the bases required by law protecting refugees, ensuring that the arrivals are set up with bank accounts, access to health, education, employment and professional training and “tools to face a new life in Portugal with confidence”, explains DN.

But as to the nuts-and-bolts of the far larger “Juncker plan” to take in thousands, these are still an unknown.

“Our expectation is that SEF will accompany the selection of those coming to Portugal in the places in which they are currently installed”, said Gouveia. “But we are still in the phase of political decisions”.

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Photo credit: An Aerial View of the Za’atri Refugee Camp by U.S. Department of State