The Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) has rejected the disappearance of pilgrims who entered Portugal for World Youth Day (WYD) as a security threat, the agency said today.
The newspaper Expresso reported today that thousands of pilgrims have not returned to their countries of origin after the event held in Portugal between August 1 and 6 and have taken the opportunity to stay in the country or head to other European states, but the exact numbers of these cases are unknown.
“The cases of pilgrims who stopped accompanying their respective groups were not considered to be a threat to the security of the event, so the adoption of measures to locate and control them was not justified,” SEF said in a response sent to Lusa, stressing that this would be “an interference in the freedom of movement” of these citizens.
However, reiterating explanations already given to the newspaper, SEF puts the situation into perspective and adds that any pilgrims detected in an irregular situation will be expelled.
“The procedure laid down in the Aliens Act will be adopted if the authorities identify any of these citizens who are staying illegally. In other words, the citizen will be notified to leave national territory within 10 to 20 days,” said the security service’s press office.
SEF also pointed out that these pilgrims “entered Portugal legally and enjoy freedom of movement in the Schengen area during the validity of their visas”, which were issued by the consular representations of Portugal and other Schengen states.
Without saying whether any expressions of interest have been received from these foreign citizens to remain in Portugal, the security service also said that “they will be able to leave via any external Schengen border other than the Portuguese one” or, “within certain limits, request an extension of their stay”.
According to the provisional figures released in the final balance of the WYD security operation, a total of 1,362,272 people were checked between July 22 and August 6 at Portuguese borders, where documentary controls were temporarily reinstated on the occasion of WYD.