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Between theory and practice. Guaranteeing migrants’ rights in a time of pandemics: The Portuguese exception

Social Welfare
Welfare State
Immigration
Teresa Rodrigues
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
Teresa Rodrigues
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
Susana Ferreira
Antonio Nebrija University

Abstract

Migrant populations are highly affected in the event of health emergencies. They are more exposed to experiencing greater vulnerabilities due to a combination of political, sociocultural, economic and legal barriers, that might curb migrants’ access to the healthcare system and welfare services. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks these communities are subject to. Even if migrants were exposed to the same health threats as the rest of the population, linguistic and cultural barriers, cost, exclusive health policies, and a lack of legal and regulatory frameworks often compromise their access to the healthcare system and social services. The health crisis is also affecting long-term migrants due to the severe economic collapse and financial crisis. Since 2020 a range of emergency-driven measures were implemented but they often failed to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of target populations. Portugal adopted exceptional measures to protect this group, through the implementation of an extraordinary regularisation process to all foreign citizens with pending processes. The adoption of these extraordinary measures sets an example of good practices to safeguard migrants’ human rights and human security in critical times, despite the temporary character of these instruments. The purpose of this presentation is to offer insights on migrants’ vulnerability in the context of COVID-19, through the case study of Portugal, based on selected indicators of vulnerability (regularisation, access to healthcare and to social security services) which directly concern the impact of the health crisis on migrants.