The previous government decided in November 2021 that the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) would be extinct in Portugal in January 2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the extinction of SEF has been set for May 12. SEF will be replaced by the Portuguese Agency of Migration and Asylum (APMA).
There has been confusion regarding the extinction of SEF. While many believed the Foreigners and Borders Service was set to be completely abolished, it will be in fact reformed. The “policing” aspect of SEF is set to be given to law enforcement agencies such as PSP and GNR, while SEF will remain its administrative roles. SEF will no longer enforce border control, as well as deal with issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking. These will be left to the police.
The APMA will take care of issues of requests for visas, asylum, and aiding refugees, as well as studying, promoting, and executing measures relating to migratory movements and politics.
There have been claims that the government is unprepared for SEF’s extinction and that a second delay is to occur. However, the Ministry of Internal Administration (MAI) told CNN Portugal on Monday that the extinction will occur in May, guaranteeing that “the restructuring process will be clear and transparent”, as well as in dialogue with the structures of the current SEF workers.
The current workers at SEF are given the chance to transition to APMA, if they wish. There are over 1,666 workers at SEF, 1,049 of which are inspectors.
So, why is SEF becoming extinct, or rather, being reformed and re-named?
In October, the proposal to end SEF was debated in parliament, proposed by the Socialist Party (PS) and the Left Bloc (BE). The parties believe that immigrants should not be heavily policed through SEF and that the administrative and policing components of SEF should be separated, in order to make sure there is no suspicion about those who immigrate. PS and BE believe that immigrants should be viewed as people seeking better opportunities and that through a fair legal process, immigration can contribute to the development of the country.
SEF’s over-policing of immigrants has been heavily criticized by parties in Portugal and was made apparent in 2020. On March 12 of that year, Ukrainian citizen Ihor Homeniuk was murdered by three SEF inspectors at Lisbon Airport, after enduring physical assault.
Tomorrow three Portuguese officers stand trial over the fatal beating of a Ukrainian man in Lisbon airport, a case that fuelled outrage and exposed what rights advocates say is a record of abuse within the immigration service. Our @Reuters story: https://t.co/tLqdOZJZKA 1/7 pic.twitter.com/sXzXpASYoz
— Catarina Demony (@CatarinaDemony) February 1, 2021
Regarding Portugal, the U.N. Human Rights Commission reported in 2020 that it was “concerned about allegations regarding excessive use of force, including torture and ill-treatment, by law enforcement officials…and about the very low number of prosecutions and convictions in such cases.”
Hugh Chetwynd, a member of the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, told Reuters in 2021 that its last visit to Portugal in 2019 showed that “the problem of violence by law enforcement officials is a deeper one”.