Portugal considers asylum for 74 Syrians with fake passports

LISBON Wed Dec 11, 2013 1:27pm EST

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal is considering asylum requests from a group of 74 Syrians detained after flying in from Guinea-Bissau using fake Turkish passports, Portuguese officials said on Wednesday.

State-run news agency Lusa quoted Teresa Tito Morais, head of the Portuguese Council for Refugees, as saying the 21 children, 15 women and 38 men were being sheltered in social security centers and Catholic charity facilities.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement there had been a "serious breach of security" at the airport in Bissau which led to the "departure of 74 passengers with proven false documents" to Lisbon.

Airline TAP has cancelled all flights to Guinea-Bissau until there is a complete revaluation of the security conditions offered by local authorities, the ministry said. It also repeated a recommendation that Portuguese citizens not travel to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony.

Daily Diario de Noticias said Guinean authorities had forced the crew of the plane to transport the passengers despite their passports being fake.

Tito Morais said the Syrians had applied for asylum in Portugal and would remain in the country until the end of the process. That could take two months.

"They've requested asylum and will now be interviewed by the authorities to get the process going," she said.

She said Portugal's capacity to receive refugees was strained by its economic crisis, but "Portugal will do what it can to rescue the victims of the war in Syria".

The group had arrived in Guinea from Turkey via Morocco.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war, many taking refuge in neighboring Turkey. The United Nations expects another 2 million Syrians to become refugees in 2014.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip and Axel Bugge; editing by Andrew Roche)

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