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Portugal investigates alleged misuse of Ukrainian refugees' personal data

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By Matthew Holroyd
A woman wears a Ukrainian flag over her shoulders during a gathering outside Russia's embassy in Lisbon.
A woman wears a Ukrainian flag over her shoulders during a gathering outside Russia's embassy in Lisbon.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Armando Franca

Police in Portugal have carried out raids as part of an investigation into the alleged misuse of data of Ukrainian refugees.

Officers searched a refugee support centre near Lisbon on Tuesday that has been used to welcome citizens fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Two pro-Russian attendants at the centre are accused of illegally collecting and sharing the personal data of dozens of refugees. The Ukrainian ambassador to Portugal, Inna Ohnivets, has claimed that the personal information recorded would be "of interest to Russian intelligence".

Police said that they had raided buildings in Setúbal linked to the Edinstvo -- an association for eastern European migrants -- and had seized a number of documents.

According to Portuguese media, the two pro-Russian citizens had photocopied refugees' personal documents and questioned them about the whereabouts of any family members still in Ukraine.

The alleged links between the two suspects and Moscow have led to calls for the mayor of Setúbal, André Martins, to resign. The city council has denied knowing about any "suspicious acts or conduct" linked to the refugee association.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has called for a probe into the municipality's process of welcoming refugees.

Prime Minister António Costa had previously voiced his support for an investigation into the alleged misuse of data and said that "any violation of fundamental rights is of the utmost seriousness".

"If there is any illegal behaviour, the institutions will act," he added.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ana Catarina Mendes has further stated that the case "should be investigated to the very end".

“This government will not allow the law to be violated and -- much less -- that those who arrive here are not treated with dignity and respect,” she told parliament.

Portugal has so far welcomed nearly 36,000 Ukrainian refugees since the war began on February 24.

Authorities in Lisbon have previously been fined for sharing the data of anti-government Russian protesters with the country's embassy.

There is also growing backlash against the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

PCP lawmakers left the country's parliament during a speech by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on April 21 and have been strongly condemned by Ukrainian associations.

"Let us not enter into a climate of witch-hunting in Portugal," Prime Minister Costa said last week.

"We respect the pluralism that results from the free will of Portuguese citizens to choose the parties they vote for and which have parliamentary representation," he added.

Additional sources • EFE