Enhancing cooperation among the Prague Process states

Between 10th and 13th March 2015, the ERIS project organised a work visit to Portugal, and the cities of Lisbon, Torres Vedras and Porto. Thus, participants from the Czech Republic, the Russian Federation and ICMPD had the unique opportunity to get acquainted with Portuguese integration policies and concrete measures that are widely recognised as Good Practices in the field.

 The visit focused on the practical exchange on integration policies and measures with a broad variety of involved actors. It started with a visit to the Headquarters of the Portuguese national immigration authority, the Office for Foreigners and Borders (SEF). Integration is one of the main areas of SEF´s work that emphasised that a legal residence status is considered a precondition for successful immigrant integration.

In Portugal as in other immigration countries the implementation of concrete integration measures is partly delegated to NGOs. Thus, the approach of two the organisations that were visited in the course of the work visit is to address immigrants’ needs in the framework of general social programmes that also assist other categories of beneficiaries. Such an approach represents an alternative to integration measures specifically and solely targeting immigrants.

The Portuguese concept of the “One Stop Shop Centre” is widely regarded as the “Best Practice” in providing assistance to immigrants. The customer-friendly integration centre gathers all relevant services under one roof, immigrants can thus settle all their issues within the same building. The ERIS participants took note of smooth coordination of all state and non-state agencies involved in the Centre which is obviously crucial for the efficient work in such a multitask setting.

Integration of asylum seekers and refugees was also part of the work visit agenda. The ERIS delegation visited a reception centre and discussed the scope of integration services available to clients of the centre.

The practical implementation of integration programmes at the local level was presented in the city of Torres Vedras. Participants were informed about way in which the municipality, in cooperation with the state institutions and NGOs, provides integration services and organises inter-cultural events. Moreover, participants visited a local high school where issues of integration of immigrant children and language courses for adult immigrants were discussed.

In the city of Porto, participants of the ERIS work visit met with representatives of the SEF Northern Directorate and discussed topics of integration, trafficking in human beings and labour exploitation. Participants had the opportunity to visit a detention centre for immigrants who are under the obligation to leave the country. Thus, it was shown that the Portuguese immigration system provides for enough room and flexibility to regularise the status of irregular immigrants, detention and forced return are considered very last options when all other possibilities have been exhausted.