Social and Economic Integration
of Refugees
Into the Host Society:
 Based on the Project
Social and Economic Integration of Refugees into Portuguese Society
Implemented by
The Portuguese Refugee Council - PRC
Financed by:
 The European Social Fund
 INTEGRAR Sub-Programme - Measure 4
 Ministry of Labour and Solidarity
Lisbon, November 1998 

I.  A Brief Introduction
II.  Brief Considerations of the Current Portuguese Asylum Law
III.  Methodology
1.  Objective of the Present Study and Possibilities of Work
2.  Target Population Framework and Research Methods
3.  General Characteristics of the Sample Population
IV.  Social and Professional Integration of the Respondents Into Portuguese Society
1.  Characteristics of the Active Respondent Population
1.1  The Unemployment Problem
2.  Professional Mobility
V.  Conclusion


The present report aims to do a sociological analysis summary on the social and economic integration of refugees(1) who attend the Portuguese Language and Computing Courses taught in the Portuguese Refugee Council (PRC)(2)

These classes are covered by the Social and Economic Integration of Refugees into the Portuguese Society Project, which is financed by Measure 4 of the INTEGRAR Sub-Programme (The European Social Fund / Ministry of Labour and Solidarity) and implemented by the PRC.

The project started in September 1997, being the PRC's first initiative addressed to promote the integration of refugees into the host society.

For some years, the PRC have noticed the huge integration difficulties experienced by refugees in the host society. There were and still are frequent cases clearly showing the social exclusion experienced by this group. This is further illustrated by those refugees that, even after living in Portugal many years, are unable to communicate in Portuguese, even at a basic level of the language.

In this manner, the possibility of obtaining funding for a project addressed to integration which was materialised through its approval by the INTEGRAR Sub-Programme, became fundamental to the implementation of all activities aiming to promote the complete integration of this group into the host society.

Through this Project the PRC have tried to implement a succession of activities that promote the integration of the group and at the same time fight against its exclusion. Implementing the project, the PRC have aimed to view integration as a flexible and bidimensional process implying not only the refugees' adaptation to the host society but also the malleability and the capacity for change of the host society for the reception and integration of new groups.

In effect, the PRC is convinced that integration is not a one-way process. It implies that, from the prevailing group, there is some plasticity allowing the integration of new groups, without the loss of their own social and cultural characteristics, as an essential condition to being an integrated part of the host society.

The present report focuses solely on the social and economic integration of the students attending the Portuguese and Computing Courses which is one of the refugee groups covered by this project. The results seem nevertheless to be of relevance as they show the extreme social and economic precariousness of the group living in Portuguese society. It is to be supposed that these results are suitable for other ethnic and cultural minority groups, as immigrants, who experience similar problems of social and economic integration.

In this manner, it is hoped that the present report will be useful to all organizations that reflect upon, as do the PRC, and face similar problems concerning the groups they deal with. On the other hand, it is hoped that these results will be rather convincing in order to start off mechanisms allowing the continuation of the struggle against problems of this nature.

Thus, we hope that all those using this report will be able to find aspects deserving reflection and, above all, incentives in the search for solutions for such problems. Above all, it aims to contribute to attaining the main objective of this Project:

The complete social, cultural and economic integration of refugees in Portugal, meaning that it implies the acceptance and inclusion of the important contribution brought by such a diverse group to different levels of the society where it has taken refuge.

All that remains is a request that all comments, suggestions and criticism be sent to the PRC in order that, in the future, improvements can be made both for and with refugees, regarding the promotion of their integration.

Finally, on behalf of the PRC and the refugees involved in the Project, we would like to express some words of acknowledgement to the INTEGRAR Operational Intervention. In particular, the PRC wishes to thank the coordinators of Measure 4 and Regional Delegation of Lisbon for all the support given throughout the implementation of this work.



Law 15/98, approved on 26th March has established a new regime concerning the issue of Asylum and the granting of Refugee Status. It maintains the granting of the right of asylum to aliens and stateless persons who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership of a particular social group, are unable, or, owing to such fear, are unwilling to return to the State of their nationality or their habitual residence. This same right is also granted, in the current legislation, to aliens and stateless persons persecuted or severely threatened by persecution as a result of their activities exercised in the State of their nationality or their habitual residence in the name of democracy, national and social liberation, peace between peoples, liberty and human rights.(3)

Law 15/98 ruling the Right of Asylum and the Refugee Status in Portugal provides a broader procedural flexibility in relation to the previous law 70/93. The Residence Permit on Humanitarian Grounds shall be granted to aliens and stateless persons to whom the provisions of article 1 are not applicable and who are not allowed or who feel unable to return to the State of their nationality or their habitual residence because of a lack of security resulting from armed conflicts or systematic violations of human rights found to exist in the said State.(4)  Under the former legislation the granting (or not) of a Residence Permit on Humanitarian Grounds remained at the discretion of the Minister of Internal Affairs, in so far as to become material it depended rather on the "acknowledgement of national interest by decree of the Minister of Internal Affairs" rather than on objective conditions (foreseen in article 2) met by the individual. Under the current law, article 9 provides an important change - granting temporary protection "to displaced persons from their countries as a result of situations of serious international armed conflicts which cause a large -scale influx of refugees". The temporary protection should not exceed two years and should be based on the criteria according to the specific situation, by resolution of the Council of Ministers which will be in compliance with the provisions adopted by the European Union relating to concerted actions for the reception and provisional permanence of displaced persons.

In Chapter VI on Social Support, Section I, article 49 provides a "guarantee of reception", binding the Portuguese state to ensure that asylum seekers are granted "conditions of human dignity" until a final decision on the application for asylum is taken. Article 55 still provides asylum seekers, to whom a temporary residence permit has been issued, with "access to the labour market according to the provisions of the general law, ceasing to be applied the regime of social assistance granted by article 50, when they receive a wage for their work".

The current legislation on Right of Asylum and Refugee Status clearly acknowledges the advisory and reporting role of the PRC as well as its activities regarding legal and social advice. The acknowledgement of the activities undertaken by this Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), free from religious and/or political connotations, is an important step in the sense that all the asylum applications will henceforth be examined individually, objectively and impartially.

Notwithstanding, the innovations incorporated into the current legislation on Right of Asylum and Refugee Status and the good intentions expressed, once again, the prospects failed to meet the objective consequences of the implementation of the law.

According to the activities report of the PRC relating to the first semester 1998, some inefficiencies have been pointed out in the new law:

 Non-existence of the National Commissariat for Refugees (NCR) which has not been established yet.

 The lack of efficiency of the appeal without suspensive effect to the Administrative Court. In other words, regarding the applications presented at the border, this is useless. As, once the applications have to be submitted for review to the NCR and the applicant returned, it is of no use to apply for appeal as the asylum seeker is no longer staying in the national territory.

 The lack of consciousness of employers regarding the significance of the Temporary Resident Permit consequently raises difficulties of employment.

 The lack of legal provisions relating to social support and health care by the date of publication of this study.




The objective of the present study is to assess the level of integration of the sample population into the Portuguese labour market. The population concerned is not a representative sample of the total number of asylum seekers and refugees at present existing in Portugal. At most, it is representative of the group of asylum seekers and refugees who attend the Portuguese Language and the Computing Courses taught in the Integration Office of the PRC(5), consequently being a case study.

The guiding thread of this work and its main purpose, is supported by two working possibilities:

The whole group is in a particularly vulnerable position in relation to the labour market: it is subject to unemployment, descending mobility processes and to unstable and irregular employment.

Having resorted to unofficial solutions, most of the active population are to be found moving around the informal labour market or turning to informal networks of support to face periods of unemployment. Through this common practice they are inserted (not integrated(6)) into the Portuguese labour market.

In this manner, it is necessary to explain the meaning of "insertion" and "integration" in relation to this study. There is no intention, however, to change metaphorically these two words rendering them new jargon full of meaning and significance wresting their real sense. Insertion amounts to the first level of integration into the labour market which often means irregular and unstable employment.(7). Consequently, this is just an opportunity to perform an activity that ensures the actors insertion into the labour world. This initial post, according to the developing strategies and taking into account the structural conditionalities of the market(s) can culminate either an effective social and economic integration or the beginning of a marginalisation process. This is "the start of a descent" throughout which there are successive disruptions between the individual and the society"(1) the last stage being tantamount to "social exclusion".

According to the definition elaborated by Margarida Marques, the market is characterised by an "interaction situation where different actors are co-operating in order to achieve their objectives" or by an "interaction system between free actors deriving from the production and competitive transaction of goods"(9). In reference to this study the labour market could not be merely an income-generator as this strictly belongs to the economic sphere and not the whole system that characterises the social area.

The labour market is hereby understood as the place and agent of socialisation and social integration(10). An individual having uncertain and irregular employment within the informal economy, without reliable working conditions and being poorly paid, it is certainly not socially and economically integrated. His situation is rather a situation of permanent insecurity and of precarious economic status(11).

It is important to know to what extent the atypic, illegal and irregular forms of work whose immediate corollary is the complete absence of basic social protection, can contribute to an effective labour integration or to improving the standards of living. Thus, a sense of belonging to a certain society is determined by, not only having access to obtain certain goods but also by enjoying the rights and social privileges of a particular society. In practice and in certain cases, the economic exclusion can lead to another form of exclusion, namely social exclusion.

Consequently, this study does not consider that, if the individual is working in informal labour networks with any or all prevailing forms of human exploitation, in parallel with the "law of the strongest" and in individualistic culture which is not particularly sensitive to solidarity, he automatically has economic, functional or even social integration.



The scope of the present study focuses on 45 students attending the Portuguese and Computing Courses taught in the Integration and Training Office(12) of the PRC from 27th to 31st July 1998. Only 30 of them completed a questionnaire and the remaining 15 did not attend the classes for different reasons, i.e: they were working outside Lisbon.

These three month Courses presupposing further courses were taught by two teachers, a Portuguese language teacher and a Computing teacher. Both courses are run on post-laboral schedules and were designed in order to allow the students to attend both courses should they wish to. The Portuguese classes were divided into three levels: absolute beginners, elementary learning and classes designed for illiterate persons.

These 30 persons among the total number of 45 that were attending the courses were submitted to a questionnaire mainly consisting of closed questions. Considering the pre-set format of the questionnaire with limited answers hypotheses, some risks were involved. In fact, the closed question structure was based on the assumption that the other "possible answers" were actually residual or irrelevant, therefore seeming to the researcher unnecessary to include them. However, regarding the present study, careful procedures were required considering the differences between the researcher and the sample population necessitating the reformulation of the questionnaire twice before its final version for presentation to all individuals.

The sample group is not a homogeneous group both in cultural and linguistic aspects. The existing distance between the group and the researcher as well as the great barrier of language have contributed to add communication and comprehension problems about the questions initially formulated. The final version of the questionnaire was a result of a succession of attempts made to overcome all these difficulties.

The data obtained was processed with the application of SPSS software. Taking into account the small number of questionnaires it was considered unnecessary and inappropriate to undertake complex statistical analysis. Therefore, the analysis performed is relevant and sufficient to confirm to or even to invalidate the possibilities of work initially planned and to suit them in order to achieve the objective of this study, which is to assess the level of integration of the sample population into the Portuguese labour market.


The sample population culturally constitutes a rather varied group, notwithstanding the proportion of the African natives being notoriously higher than the non-African natives proportion. As the population from the African continent lies heavily on the total of the sample population, the diversity of the group could be questioned. However, the African continent distinguishes itself by contrasts. The protracted and coercive nature of each African country's colonisation has led to a miscellany of ancient cultures and traditions of different tribes whose codes continue to be preserved at the present time. The non-African sample population mainly coming from eastern Europe, also includes however persons from Vietnam, Pakistan and India.

The male representation is higher than the female representation in the whole group: about 60 per cent of men and the remaining are women. It is a young population, ranging from the age of 15 to 44, most of them being aged between 25 to 34.

Despite the fact that 40 per cent of the sample population has been living in Portugal for more than two years, most of them still could not get recognition of refugee status or the granting of any protection (temporary or humanitarian). Some others benefit from a temporary residence permit although this can at any moment be withdrawn, imposing the return to the country of origin. The PRC's activities have foreseen this possibility and, therefore, the organization advocates that all the asylum-seekers should benefit from a favourable reception policy, irrespective that their refugee status could be rejected.(13). This is why many individuals of this group, although not recognised as refugees (it is likely they will not become refugees since many of them have rebutted the negative decision) are "potential refugees".

The 30 individuals questioned were voluntarily attending the Integration and Training Office where in parallel with training courses they took part in other organised activities such as football games, visits and trips or other events such as end-of-course ceremonies and celebrations. Many of these individuals acknowledged the existence of the Integration Office when they addressed themselves to the "Emergency Social Support" of the PRC or it had come to their knowledge through other individuals or students who attended or are attending the training courses. What is important to underline is that this population is constituted of individuals that are predisposed to struggle for their integration because they wish to restore their lives in Portugal, although many of them are still in legal situations that are not yet resolved. They believe they can overcome all the obstacles. As a result of this, the role played by the Integration Office's staff also includes the thankless task of quashing some utopian dreams ...

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In this study, owing to its social nature, the term "Refugee" is always used in its broadest sense (just in Chapter II the designations correspond exactly to the legal vocabulary). Thus, keeping to its most common usage, in this report, the term "refugee" is associated to such varied legal situations related to this group (for instance, foreigner/resident for humanitarian reasons, refugee, asylum-seeker, etc.).
A non-lucrative Social Solidarity Association, established on 20th September 1991.
Law 15/98 of 26th March; Chapter I - Art. 1
Law 15/98 of 26th March; Chapter I - Art. 8
This Office is comprised by the activities performed within the "Social-Economic Integration of Refugees into the Portuguese Society" Project which is financed by the INTEGRAR Sub-Programme.
The PRC advocates that the integration concept is the most appropriate notion for the type of work undertaken by this Project. According to this Organization, the "insertion" concept significantly weakens the final objective of a process of this nature, which is, the equalitarian participation of refugees without any forms of discrimination in the host society. 
"More recently, the growth of uncertain employment is seen as a phenomenon deriving from integration into the labour market. These first jobs are named as waiting employment aiming to: make profitable the investment with information, "provide an opportunity of finding a better job ... and better adjust the individual to the occupation". Oliveira, Luísa (1998): Inserção Profissional. O Caso da Reestruturação dos Lanifícios da Covilhã. Ed. Cosmos, p.17.
Costa, Alfredo Bruto da (1998); Exclusões Sociais. Colecção Cadernos Democráticos Ed. Gradiva Publicações, Lda.; Mário Soares Foundation, p.10.
Marques, Maria Margarida (1994) Mobilidade Profissional e Redes Sociais em Meio Urbano. Graduation dissertation for Sociology of Industry, Labour and Organizations, Social and Human Sciencies Faculty - The New University of Lisbon, pp. 172-182.
10  Costa, Alfredo Bruto da (1998); Exclusões Sociais. Colecção Cadernos Democráticos Ed. Gradiva Publicações, Lda.; Mário Soares Foundation, p.14.
11  Pimenta, Manuel and Perista, Heloísa; "Trajectórias Profissionais e Inserção Laboral dos Imigrantes Residentes em Bairros Degradados de Lisboa"; in Emigração/Imigração em Portugal. Actas do "Colóquio Internacional sobre Emigração e Imigração em Portugal (séc. XIX-XX). Ed. Fragmentos / 1993, p. 443.
12  Activities performed within the "Social and Economic Integration of Refugees into Portuguese Society" Project which is financed by the INTEGRAR Sub-Programme.
13  In this sense, reception should cover social, economic and cultural areas at this stage, preceding the full integration into the host society.