Wrapping up his first visit to Portugal, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi lauded the country’s "exemplary" refugee policies, UNHCR said in a statement.
“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,” said Grandi.
Praiseworthy measures taken by Portuguese authorities include exemption of asylum-seekers from border restrictions, extending the validity of documents and providing access to healthcare, employment, social benefits and financial services, the statement noted.
Grandi also paid tribute to Portugal’s active engagement in international solidarity programmes.
“We are impressed by Portugal’s engagement in responsibility-sharing mechanisms, including resettlement, relocation of unaccompanied children and other, bilateral arrangements, as well as its continued advocacy to find a permanent and predicable approach to solutions at the EU level,” Grandi said.
During his visit, Grandi had talks with senior government officials, refugees and civil society activists and toured the National Immigration Support Center (CNAI) managed by Portugal’s High Commission for Migration, according to the statement.
UNCHR is also working closely with the Portuguese Refugee Counci and reception centre in Loures, north of Lisbon, where he met with some 50 recently arrived resettled refugees and refugee staff, the statement said.
The Council plays a key role in the reception of refugees, running several reception centres for asylum-seekers, unaccompanied and separated children and resettled refugees, the statement noted.
Since 2013, Portugal has awarded around 650 scholarships for Syrian university students, the statement said.
In recent years, the number of asylum applications in Portugal has increased, adding pressure to the country’s reception capacity and integration structures. Grandi underlined the importance of adequate reception and longer-term integration of refugees in the country.
Grandi also praised Portugal for its "significant progress" in delivering on almost half of the pledges it made at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2019. The pledges include the adoption of a "comprehensive and accessible" language training programme to help refugees integrate and the creation of a single coordination mechanism for all refugee issues, the statement said.
Grandi welcomed the start of the Portuguese rotating European Union presidency and expressed his full support for Portugal's efforts to advance negotiations towards an agreement on the European Commission's proposed EU migration and asylum pact, the statement added.
Grandi called on the Portuguese EU presidency to promote Europe’s "strategic engagement", through humanitarian and development aid for major refugee hosting and transit countries, and on Portugal to boost its own humanitarian contributions to aid programmes, the statement concluded.
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