Portugal's tolerance towards irregular migration and its relatively extensive citizenship rights, in comparison with other European countries, have contributed towards its reputation as a migrant friendly state. However, when the state turns a blind eye to the irregular status of migrants and when the outsourcing of refugee reception to civil society fails to deliver according to Weberian expectations of an orderly, rational bureaucracy, who has the right to call whom to account? Through an examination of the blurred accountabilities in different sites of service provision in Portugal, the article examines the complex, shifting and incomplete strategies employed by social workers, civil society hosting staff and migrants in struggles over claims and resources. The challenges are like those of a game of cards in which players, searching for clarification regarding the rules of the game and how to apply or even manipulate them, may be partners in one round and adversaries in the next. These sites of struggle extend beyond two-sided confrontations between bureaucrats and their clients to include the wider structural context with its multiple actors, multiple accountabilities, and complex positionalities at play. A common outcome in these struggles for migrants and service providers alike is a transition from hope in state service delivery to hope in their own ability to navigate the system. There are limits to what service providers can achieve due to the structural conditions beyond their control. When they fail to deliver, relations between migrants and service providers sour. Feeling that clients have acted contrary to their expectations of compliant gratitude, service providers employ strategies which range from cutting relationships altogether to providing minimal formal support and questioning their own reactions. Migrants, believing that they have been let down or even tricked by the state, may even feel legitimatized to trick it in return.