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Portugal: Lisbon city council organising major operation to host refugees (Unofficial translation)

Ms. Helena Roseta, chairwoman of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area said, at the end of the 1st meeting of the Working Group Refugee Support [22 September], that "It is reassuring to note a complete unanimity around our obligation to accept refugees and a remarkable availability of civil parish councils to act in the field". The Group of Support to Refugees, linked to Lisbon’s Municipal Parliament, brought together presidents, municipal deputies and the city council to provide a more effective response to a situation "that unites us all," said social-democrat Mr. Victor Gonçalves. "This can not be mixed with internal politics" he said, referring to the legislative elections that will be held on 4 October 2015.

The chairwoman stressed the importance of "working together in synergy" and this was backed up by Mr. João Afonso, municipal councillor of Social Rights: "What is necessary for us, the city of Lisbon, is, above all, coordination". With the goal of hosting about 500 people in Lisbon (10% of the national contingent), it was possible to reach a broad consensus and a wide availability of civil parish councils to continue acting in the field. Ms. Roseta added that "A lot of people are already working with the city council including the Holy House of Mercy, the Portuguese Refugee Council and the Jesuit Refugee Service and all this is being articulated with the National Refugee Support Platform".

During the meeting, it was decided that council dwellings will not be made available to house refugees and that dwellings available in the market will be used instead. There is already an agreement between the local authorities and the Association of Professionals and Real Estate Companies to speed up the search and leasing processes. Ms. Helena Roseta and Lisbon’s mayor, Mr. Fernando Medina, consider that the dwellings to be provided to refugees can not be council housing, in order to avoid an "undesirable conflict" among the needy families in the city - that go through a rigorous application process to the council flats - and people fleeing war.

Ms. Helena Roseta also floated another idea: the creation of a program of sponsors, composed of "people who are available to give the necessary support". To address this scenario, the city council is already preparing a hosting program, with a two million euro budget. This program, articulated with the Portuguese Refugee Council, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Holy House of Mercy, will not only provide housing but will also meet other needs of the refugees. Food and clothing, education, access to the labour market and health services are some of the priorities. At the end of the meeting, Mr. João Afonso added "We have to be ready by the end of October".

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