SEF officially becomes SEA today as PSP/ GNR take over control of Portugal’s borders

SEF – the recently ‘much-in-the-news-for-all-the-wrong-reasons’ Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras – has ‘officially’ ceased to exist (although in reality it will continue for some time).

From today (Thursday April 15) according to government newspaper Diário da República, it has been substituted by SEA (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Asilo), and the control it had over the nation’s borders has passed to PSP/ GNR police.

The move has been coming ‘for a while’. If one believes the government, it was a plan before three SEF inspectors were put on trial for the brutal killing of a Ukrainian father-of-two (click here).

But it is not happening ‘peacefully’. SEF’s syndicate of inspectors is spitting proverbial tintacks. PSD and CDS centre right politicians are also against the change.

According to Acácio Pereira, the president of SEF’s syndicate of inspectors, the extinction of his service is “an attempt by the government to bring about a political and constitutional coup to ‘save the skin’ of interior minister Eduardo Cabrita” – a man who has been consistently blamed for the shortcomings that led to the Ukrainian’s death (click here).

In Mr Pereira’s mindset, the fact that the extinction has been ‘announced’ in Diário da República is meaningless: it should have passed through parliament first – and this is clearly what he and those who support him will be pushing for over the next few months.

The government’s intention is that from now on SEA deals with all the bureaucratic (tecnico-administrative) issues of legalising foreigners/ dealing with asylum issues – meaning it will ‘cooperate with Schengen Space institutions and other European agencies with controls over borders and asylum’, while ‘policing’ issues will be left to agents of the PSP/ GNR and when necessary PJ (judicial police).

How everything moves forwards remains to be seen.

For the time being, the PSD centre-right party has said squarely that in its view the whole issue is a “smoke screen” to “deviate attention from a great fragility” of Mr Cabrita’s making – while the CDS-PP has described the restructuring as a “very serious damage for the institution (SEF/SEA) and the country as a whole”.

For the everyday citizens who are simply trying to ‘get papers’ in order to be legal, the move may cause even more headaches and confusion than delays forced by the pandemic have already created. SEF/SEA is for example in the process of issuing all legalised British residents with ‘biometric’ residency papers that have become necessary as a result of Brexit. All paperwork was ‘required’ months ago, and since then… complete silence.

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