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AIMA's initium horribilis

Atualizado: 17 de mai.

It's been a rough few weeks at the new Agency for Integration, Migrations and Asylum (AIMA).

First, in February and April, there were immigrants protests at AIMA agencies around the countries due to delays in their residence card, without which immigrants cannot return to their home country. In statements to SIC News, immigrants said that they felt “trapped in the void” and confused by the extinction of the SEF and the creation of this new agency.

Then, earlier this month, Expresso reported that, since its creation, on the October 29, 2023, AIMA has already been the target of 7,617 legal actions. That's a whooping 50 complaints a day.

Things took a turn for the worse after a spate of vicious attacks against migrants in Porto. Commenting on the attacks, Rui Moreira, the president of the Porto City Hall defended AIMA's extinction.

"I repeat, AIMA is an inoperative agency that wastes public money without fulfilling the mission it set out to do and, therefore, must be extinguished", he said.

Rui Moreira questioned why in a country where parliamentary commissions of inquiry are created "so easily", the Assembly of the Republic does not investigate this national agency that "remains dead in the face of the apparent lack of control of migratory flows".

According to the mayor, active policies are needed to guarantee the integration of immigrants, but also to reassure the populations.

This week, more problems. Immigrants reported receiving an email from AIMA requesting the payment of fees of up to 400 euros, within 10 days, in order to speed up the response to accumulated requests.

An official source from the office of the Minister of the Presidency indicated that it had become aware of the measure, and highlighted that the Government will present a “different response”, which will integrate the action plan that the Executive is preparing.

As if this wasn't enough, on Tuesday, AIMA's border units were affected by computer system failures. According to the office of the Secretary General of the Internal Security System, the border control system was affected by constraints regarding cooling the Agency for Migration and Asylum Integration (AIMA) data center.

"At no time was the security of the European Union's external borders or the regularity of entry into national territory in question", the Secretary General of the Internal Security System assured.

Migration dominates EU debates

Migration also dominated the first two TV debates between the leading candidates to the EU elections.

On Monday's debate, all candidates agreed on the "shortcomings"of the EU's Migration Pact but Livre was more strongly opposed to it than the other parties.

Marta Temido, from the Socialist Party, stressed the need to "monitor its implementation with great care and commitment", since it "brings greater solidarity", but "has weaknesses", such as the "externalisation of border control".

Sebastião Bugalho, from the ruling AD, agreed that it "reinforces solidarity", but also pointed out that it "has limitations", as he believes that the "legal immigration mechanisms are too short and unambitious". He advocated lowering the salary for the EU Blue Card (work authorisation for highly qualified citizens).

Support for this proposal came from João Cotrim de Figueiredo, from IL, who was "generally in favour" of the pact, but also said that it needed to be "refined", namely in the sense of "doing much more" for "seasonal and highly qualified workers".

More critical was Francisco Paupério, who even argued that "it would be better" if the EU "didn't have a pact" that allows it to "separate families", "externalise the EU's borders" and that "isn't prepared" to take in climate refugees. Instead, the Free candidate called for the creation of humanitarian corridors and "inclusion programmes that work".

The head-to-head ended up taking on a national flavour, with the right-wing candidates refusing to accept that Portugal's immigration problems stem from the pact. Cotrim de Figueiredo blamed the PS for the delays in residence permits, due to the process of abolishing SEF and creating AIMA, and Sebastião Bugalho even accused the party of having handed over "immigration policy to human trafficking networks".

Marta Temido, for her part, accused the AD candidate of "deep demagoguery and a lack of seriousness" and said that the party was "not the only party in the world".

The second debate for the European elections, on Wednesday evening, pitted the left-wing and environmental parties against Chega.

With points of convergence on almost every issue, Bloco de Esquerda, Livre and PAN agreed on the need for integration policies for immigrants, a path to peace in the war in Ukraine and the rejection of an increase in the defence budget. As a result, the Chega list leader was left alone to defend positions such as the existence of "wide open doors" in immigration in Portugal that let in "bad elements".

However, even the Chega Candidate, António Tânger Corrêa, moderated himself in the debate, devaluating Ventura's speeches, saying that they were "punctual". Even on immigration, he said that immigrants were necessary, winking at Brazilians as "excellent" immigrants.

The background on AIMA

The separation between police functions and immigrant documentation functions of the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) had already been foreseen in the program of the Socialist Government in 2019.

However, it was after horrific death of father-of-two, Ukranian Ihor Homenyuk Ukrainian at the Lisbon airport, in 2020, that the former Minister of Internal Administration, Eduardo Cabrita, announced the restructuring of this service.

The end of SEF was thus approved by the Assembly of the Republic on October 22, 2021 and, on April 6 2023, the Government approved the creation of the Portuguese Agency for Minorities, Migrations and Asylum and the transition regime for workers in the Foreigners and Borders Service.

As part of the restructuring of Portugal's border control system, the powers of the SEF were transferred to seven bodies: the police functions passed to the Public Security Police (PSP), the National Republican Guard (GNR) and the Judicial Police (PJ), while the administrative functions related to foreign citizens will be transferred to the Agency for Integration, Migration and Asylum, I.P. (AIMA) and to the Institute of Registries and Notaries (IRN).

Created in October last year, AIMA inherited more than 350 thousand pending cases from SEF. It also took over the functions of the High Commission for Migrations with regard to the reception and full integration of those who choose to live, study or who were forced to leave their country.

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