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No longer bound by its colonial identity, Portugal found important to reposition itself as a full-fledged member of the international community and assume a more active role in humanitarian and emergency aid.

Education, Early recovery, Protection
Children, Refugees, Youth
ODA 0.29% of GNI (2011) Humanitarian Assistance 0.008%

Scope of involvement


Focus on Portuguese speaking countries; disaster relief assistance – Mozambique, East Timor and peace keeping missions - UNMIT (East Timor) and UNIOGBIS (Guiné Bissau)


Participation in peace keeping missions : European Communities Monitoring Mission for Yugoslavia (ECMM-YU, 1991); UNPROFOR (1992)¸ EULEX – Kosovo


Given the severe economic crisis in Portugal, domestic humanitarian intervention seems to be more urgent, enhancing the role played by faith-based organisations in population assistance and relief.

Turning point

The 1991 Dili massacre and the organisation of the 1992 expedition of the “Lusitania Expresso” marked a turning point in civil society’s engagement and support to humanitarian causes.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

After the 1974 Revolution, civil society had the space and freedom to develop and participate through the creation of NGOs with a focus on humanitarian action and emergency aid throughout the 1980s.

National Red Cross Society

The Portuguese Delegation of the ICRC, through the years has had an important role in the humanitarian and social sector through assistance to an impoverished domestic population, to casualties of the colonial war as well as emergency aid abroad

Faith-based organisations

Pre 1974 Humanitarian Action in Portugal was led mainly by faith-based organisations and focused on the reinforcement of the state's "colonial mission".

Armed Forces

The army’s participation in international humanitarian missions has led to its growing importance in the protection of Humanitarian intervention.

Private Sector

The creation in 1984 of AMI (Assistência Médica Internacional) by surgeon urologist Fernando Nobre, has largely contributed to the public awareness regarding humanitarian intervention and the importance of the private sector both as funding agents and actors. The importance of private foundations and NGO’s that have transformed into private entities is increasing

State humanitarianism

Ministries and State agencies involved

The National Authority for Civil Protection (Ministry of Home Affairs) is identified as the central agency for Humanitarian Action and emergency intervention. The Ministry of Defence plays a growing role in emergency intervention as it controls the means of transportation logistics and thus positions itself as the main supporter of humanitarian action.

Legal framework

The CAD-OCDE Donor Assessment identifies Portugal’s recovery as an opportunity “for the country to review its position on humanitarian aid and recommit itself to GHDP”. The report recommends the creation of an official humanitarian policy which brings together the myriad of existing documents and facilitates communication between humanitarian actors, enhancing more efficient intervention. Although the lack of a formal policy/strategy contributes to the negative visibility of the country and harms the efficiency of the Portuguese Humanitarian interventions, it has not hindered what is perceived as good operational results to which the diversity and flexibility of actors involved contributes.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Camões (former IPAD) has the coordinating role in HA but the lack of implementation of a humanitarian action plan as called for by the Strategic Vision for Portuguese Development Cooperation has kept the relationship between different actors on a case by case basis with no clear formal procedures. In 1985 the Common Platform for Portuguese NGOs was founded. The Tsunami in Southeast Asia caused the multiplication of entities which often produced more confusion than articulation. Nevertheless, state intervention was seen as clear, with a specific budget and eventually partner NGOs were involved. It also sought to structure the NGO platform in this area, forming the Working Group on Humanitarian Action and Emergency.

Specific roles of international organisations

European Commission

Portugal’s accession to the EU in 1986 forced a radical redefinition of the country’s strategic guidelines. Foreign policy is developed with regards to commitments within international organisation participation.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

Growing needs for professionalisation have led to a growing offer in educational programs both by universities at the postgraduate/specialisation or Master levels and by NGOs through in-service training.

In-house training

Most NGOs develop their own training programs, mostly “refresher” courses for experienced professionals or their own staff. This type of courses is also organised by the Portugues Red Cross

Seminar/short courses

The growing rate of unemployment has forced many professionals of the health sector (especially nurses) to turn to refreshment/specialisation courses in order to follow career paths in humanitarian action.

Additional Points

Growing professionalisation and sophistication in the area of humanitarian action seems to have been halted by the current economic situation in Portugal and the financial commitments forced by the bailout plan.



BAPTISTA, J.L. (2008) Acção humanitária: notas teôricas a relato de uma experiência pessoal , Cadernos de Estudos Africanos [Online], Available from: http://cea.revues.org/371 [Accessed:04 November 2013]

FREITAS, R. (2012) Estudo sobre Ajuda Humanitária e de Emergência em Portugal. Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD

Portugal. Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros. (2006). Uma Visão Estratégica para a Cooperação Portuguesa. Lisboa. MNE

DARA. (2011). Portugal Donor Assessment . [online] available from: http://daraint.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Portugal_donor_assessment_HRI_2011.pdf

Instituto Camões. (2012). Portuguese ODA Data (2010-2012) [online] available from: https://www.instituto-camoes.pt/index.php?Itemid=1560&option=com_moofaq&view=category&id=734


Nadine Rombert Trigo, João Casqueira Cardoso and Isabel Silva
Fernando Pessoa University

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