On January 13, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi concluded a visit to Portugal in which he praised the country’s policies and efforts to protect refugees’ rights, according to UNHCR.
“While some countries shut their doors and imposed restrictions hindering access to territory and asylum for people fleeing violence and persecution, Portugal took exemplary steps to safeguard the rights of refugees early on in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grandi said.
Over the past year, Portugal has been upheld as an example of fair treatment not only for refugees, but for immigrants in general. In March 2020, the government announced that all foreigners who had pending asylum or residency applications would be treated as permanent residents, giving them access to healthcare and other forms of support during the pandemic.
However, as InfoMigrants reports, this measure does not encompass Portugal’s population of undocumented immigrants, who may be at risk of “falling through the cracks.” And even legal residents from other countries are disproportionately affected by issues like gentrification, in addition to the economic and public health risks the pandemic imposes.
According to Diário de Notícias, COVID-19 has drastically worsened things for Portugal’s most vulnerable foreign residents.
In 2020, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped 340 immigrants return from Portugal to their home countries through its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program, which provides plane tickets and other forms of financial support to those who meet certain requirements.
In 2019, only 161 people benefited from the program in Portugal, according to Diário de Notícias. The main reason for returning is unemployment, along with limited access to the job market and other related difficulties — all of which have worsened over the past year, which may explain the dramatic increase in participants.