Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 21/05/21


Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

The Asylum Act and the internal regulation of the detention facility at Lisbon Airport[1] provide for the right of detainees to receive visits from legal representatives, embassy representatives, relatives, and national and international human rights organisations.[2] In the particular case of legal assistance, asylum seekers in detention are entitled to receive visits from lawyers, UNHCR, and CPR.[3] Restrictions in the access to the detention facilities can only be based on grounds of security, public order or operational reasons and only to the extent that they do not restrict access in a significant or absolute manner.[4]

Recent information on visiting rules is not available.[5]

According to CPR’s experience, access procedures for free legal aid and private lawyers used to be complex and bureaucratic, and involved obtaining (paid) access cards in advance. Accredited staff from CPR had unrestricted access to asylum seekers detained at the border or in pre-removal detention centres, but only following the status determination interview conducted by SEF, as opposed to lawyers who have unrestricted access to detainees prior to and during the status determination interview. Considering that CPR previously accessed EECIT Lisbon solely for the purpose of providing legal assistance to applicants for international protection, and that such applicants have not been detained, CPR’s staff did not visit the detention centre after the renovation works.

According to the available information, the fee previously charged by ANA, S.A., the private company in charge of national airports, for accessing the restricted area of the airports where the detention facilities are located, is no longer applied in Lisbon as access to the detention centre is now made directly by the exterior. Throughout recent years, legal aid lawyers have raised concerns regarding this fee which could discourage them from visiting their clients.[6] The fee, which was applied to all external visitors that are not accredited, was also repeatedly criticised by the Ombudsman that qualified it as a restriction to Article 35-B(4) of the Asylum Act.[7] The UN Committee Against Torture also expressed concern with the application of this access fee in its 2019 Concluding Observations on Portugal, thereby recommending the State to “guarantee that retained asylum seekers and irregular migrants have unhindered, prompt and adequate access to counsel, including legal services.[8]

Regarding other forms of contact with the exterior, detainees at EECIT Lisbon were not allowed to keep their mobile phones but were entitled to use public phones that were freely accessible in each wing of the detention facility using coins, prepaid cards or collect calls. Furthermore, each detainee was entitled to 5 minutes of national and international calls using the telephones of the facility.

These limits on communication have been criticised by the Ombudsman due to the inadequacy of the 5-minute plafond, lack of clarity of the procedures to request additional calls, and difficulties in accessing public phones due to the absence of necessary cards.[9]

At times, CPR received complaints from detainees regarding the limited time for calls and having to choose between contacting family or lawyers. According to information available to CPR, access to phone calls after exhausting the 5-minute plafond varied. In some cases, phone calls to lawyers and organisations such as CPR for the purposes of legal assistance were provided. However, similarly to 2018, CPR received sporadic complaints in 2019 from detainees who were refused a phone call to contact the organisation, and some calls between its legal officers and detainees were abruptly interrupted by staff of the private security company in charge of operational assistance. The situation regarding access to phone calls remained largely the same during the first quarter of 2020.

In accordance with the law, UNHCR and CPR have the right to be informed of all asylum claims presented in Portugal and to personally contact asylum seekers irrespective of the place of application in order to provide information on the asylum procedure, as well as regarding their intervention throughout the process.[10] In this context, until the first quarter of 2020, CPR was regularly present (i.e., generally every week) at EECIT Lisbon to provide free legal information and assistance,[11] in particular regarding the asylum procedure; access to free legal aid at appeal stage; and the promotion of the release without conditions of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers either by SEF ex officio or by means of review from the Criminal Courts. Since March 2020, asylum seekers have not been detained at the Lisbon airport. Legal support continued to be provided to persons detained at other locations by remote means.

Social assistance, leisure or other occupational activities were not provided by any organisation at EECIT Lisbon.[12] In the case of CIT– UHSA in Porto, the law provides for an MoU with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Portugal,[13] that are responsible for training staff and providing social, psychological, and legal assistance to detainees. According to CPR’s experience regarding asylum seekers who have applied from detention at CIT – UHSA, JRS Portugal has a psychologist and a legal officer in the detention facility that provide in-house assistance. The provision of in-house medical and psychological assistance is performed by volunteer organisations such as MdM. Furthermore, IOM shares information materials at the facility (namely on the rights of detainees, regular migration and risks of irregular migration), organises information sessions and conducts interviews on the circumstances of detention. The Ombudsman has also highlighted that, following prior recommendations, in 2019, access to personal mobile phones by detained at UHSA was extended.[14]

[1]  Prior to the above-mentioned changes.

[2]  Article 35-B(3) Asylum Act.

[3]  Article 49(6) Asylum Act.

[4]  Article 35-B(4) Asylum Act.

[5] A 2011 report of the Ombudsman seems to be the only publicly available resource describing such rules. The report is available at:

[6] See Público, ‘Taxa cobrada a advogados para ver detidos no aeroporto é “nonsense”, acusa bastonário’, 3 September 2018, available in Portuguese at:

[7] According to the Ombudsman, in 2019, access costed 13€. Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.61, available at:

[8]  Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations on the seventh periodic report of Portugal, CAR/C/PRT/CO/7, 18 December 2019, par.40(d), available at

[9] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.61, available at:

[10] Article 13(3) Asylum Act.

[11]Article 49(1)(e) and (6) Asylum Act.

[12]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.62-63, available at:

[13]  Article 3 Decree-Law 44/2006.

[14]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p. 58, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation