Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 12/05/23


Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

The Asylum Act and the general regulation governing the placement of foreign and stateless persons in CIT and EECIT[1] provide for the right of detainees to receive visits from legal representatives, embassy representatives, relatives, as well as national and international human rights organisations.[2]

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.[3]

In the particular case of legal assistance, asylum seekers in detention are entitled to receive visits from lawyers, UNHCR, and CPR.[4] Access restrictions can only be based on grounds of security, public order or operational reasons and only to the extent that they do not limit access in a significant or absolute manner.[5]

In practice, CPR has access to asylum seekers detained at the border (in the past depending on accreditation) 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.

Following the renovation work conducted at EECIT Lisbon, access to the detention facility is no longer made by the international area of the airport. This is a significant change as, previously, access by visitors (including lawyers) was dependent on complex and bureaucratic procedures, and involved obtaining (paid) access cards in advance.[6] According to the Ombudsperson, detainees may receive visits lasting up to one hour between 9h and 19h.[7]

Regarding other forms of contact with the exterior, detainees at EECIT Lisbon are allowed to use their mobile phones in their rooms.[8] While this has been commended by the Ombudsperson, the latest report available at the time of writing continued to underline the importance of ensuring free access to wi-fi internet. The Ombudsperson also noted that, while a 5-minute prepaid card to be used in the public phone of the facility is provided to detainees, such a period of communications is clearly insufficient.[9] The Ombudsperson also criticised the absence of a cultural mediator in the facility.[10]

CPR’s legal officers visit EECIT Lisbon on a needs basis to provide free legal information and assistance within the context of the asylum procedure to asylum seekers detained in the facility.

In the case of CIT– UHSA, the law provides for an MoU with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Portugal,[11] 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 staff in the detention facility that provide in-house assistance. Medical and psychological assistance is provided by volunteer organisations such as MdM. Furthermore, IOM shares information materials at the facility (namely on the rights and duties of detainees, regular migration, removal and detention), organises information sessions and conducts interviews on the circumstances of detention.

Asylum seekers detained in CIT-UHSA benefit from legal assistance provided by CPR in cooperation with JRS staff present in the facility.

According to the National Preventive Mechanism, visits are also allowed in CIT-UHSA (1 visitor per detainee at each time).[12]




[1] Regulamento Regime geral sobre o acolhimento de estrangeiros e apátridas em Centros de Instalação Temporária (CIT) e Espaços Equiparados a Centros de Instalação Temporária (EECIT), 31 July 2020, available at:

[2] Article 35-B(3) Asylum Act.

[3] Article 13(3) Asylum Act.

[4] Article 49(6) Asylum Act.

[5] Article 35-B(4) Asylum Act.

[6] Throughout recent years, legal aid lawyers have raised concerns regarding this fee which could discourage them from visiting their clients. See: Público, ‘Taxa cobrada a advogados para ver detidos no aeroporto é “nonsense”, acusa bastonário’, 3 September 2018, available in Portuguese at: 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 (Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.61, available at: 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. 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

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

[8] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, 24 June 2021, pp.94 et seq, available at: For information on the previous practice and significant constraints to contact with the exterior, please refer to previous editions of the AIDA report, available at:

[9] Ombudsman, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República 2021, July 2022, pp.69-70, available at:

[10] Ombudsman, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República 2021, July 2022, pp. 69-70, available at:

[11] Article 3 Decree-Law 44/2006.

[12] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, 24 June 2021, p.103, 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