Access to detention facilities


Country Report: Access to detention facilities Last updated: 26/05/22


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, 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]

According to the report of the National Preventive Mechanism published in 2021, 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.[5] According to the same source, detainees may receive visits lasting up to one hour between 9h and 19h.

CPR has unrestricted 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.

Regarding other forms of contact with the exterior, detainees at EECIT Lisbon are now allowed to use their mobile phones in their rooms.[6] In the past this was not possible and detainees were only 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 were criticised by the Ombudsperson due to the inadequacy of the 5-minute limit, lack of clarity of the procedures to request additional calls, and difficulties in accessing public phones due to the absence of necessary cards.[7] At times, CPR received complaints from detainees regarding the limited time for calls and having to choose between contacting family or lawyers.

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.[8]

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,[9] 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, which led to a halt on such visits. Since the beginning of 2022, however, CPR has, on occasion, been in the facility to provide legal assistance to applicants for international protection detained there.

In the past, the National Preventive Mechanism has noted that social assistance, leisure or other occupational activities were not provided by any organisation at EECIT Lisbon.[10] The latest available report at the time of writing does not contain information in this regard.

The report of the National Preventive Mechanism published in 2021 highlights the limitations imposed to detainees at EECIT Faro in terms of communication with the exterior – physical access to the facility is restricted due to its location in the airport, detainees do not have access to their mobile phones, and the time limit of the call card provided upon entry is limited.[11]

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,[12] 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 of detainees, regular migration and risks of irregular migration), organises information sessions and conducts interviews on the circumstances of detention.

The Ombudspeson has also highlighted that, following prior recommendations, in 2019, access to personal mobile phones by detained at UHSA was extended.[13]

Asylum seekers detained in CIT-UHSA also 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).[14]




[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 49(6) Asylum Act.

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

[5] 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

[6] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, 24 June 2021, pp.94 et seq, available at:

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

[8] Article 13(3) Asylum Act.

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

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

[11] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, 24 June 2021, pp. 101 et seq, available at:

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

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

[14] 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