Conditions in detention facilities

Portugal

Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 21/05/21

Author

Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

Overall conditions

In the absence of legal standards for the operation of CIT, the detention facilities at the border and the CIT – UHSA in Porto are managed by the SEF pursuant to internal regulations.[1]

As mentioned, the detention facility at Lisbon Airport was closed in March 2020 both due to the coronavirus pandemic and to renovation works. Until then, this was the detention facility where the majority of asylum seekers were detained (overwhelmingly within the context of border procedures). At the time, due to the coronavirus outbreak, all applicants for international protection detained were granted entry to national territory.

While the facility reopened in August 2020, asylum border procedures have not resumed. As such, persons applying for international protection at the border have been systematically granted entry to national territory, referred to the provision of reception conditions if needed, and their cases were not subject to the rules applicable to the border procedure.

It has been reported, both by the competent authorities and by the Ombudsman, that the conditions of the EECIT have improved significantly. The Ombudsman further noted that most of the concerns raised in previous years in her role as National Preventive Mechanism have now been addressed. Furthermore, according to the information publicly available, the new regulation of EECIT Lisbon explicitly excludes detention of applicants for international protection in the facility.

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. Consequently, CPR does not have direct knowledge of the current conditions of the facility. Furthermore, the latest report of the National Preventive Mechanism available at the time of writing, published in June 2020, covers the events of 2019.

Considering that applicants for international protection have been detained at EECIT Lisbon until March 2020 (before the renovation), this section focus on the detention conditions observed until then (mostly based on CPR’s observation and on the information contained in the above-mentioned report). Information on current conditions is included to the extent possible while it should be noted that these are not currently relevant to applicants for international protection.

It is also relevant to underline that, according to the available information, when an application for international protection is made following a removal decision, applicants continue to be detained. This has happened in 2020, including after the changes in the EECIT Lisbon. While such cases are predominantly registered in UHSA, detention in EECIT (although not in EECIT Lisbon after March) has also been registered.

Regarding EECIT Lisbon,[2] the reception desk and operational assistance were managed by the staff of a private security company which included male and female employees.[3] The staff was responsible, among other things, for: initial registration; collection and access to personal belongings; administration of medication; registration and referral of requests for medical assistance; and the distribution of meals. The detention facility was regularly cleaned by a cleaning company.

The reception area included an office for a member of SEF’s staff who was present at the facility during office hours. Additionally, there were two offices in the reception area to conduct individual interviews, one of which was used by SEF, and the other by lawyers and NGOs such as CPR. Due to space and structural constraints, the offices were small and did not ensure adequate privacy, notably due to inadequate sound isolation.[4]

The detention facility had separate wings for asylum seekers and other persons who were refused entry into the territory. Each wing had two collective dormitories with bunk beds and closets that were separate for men and women. Other than a few clothes, shoes, and hygiene items, detainees were not allowed to keep personal belongings.[5] As reported by the Ombudsman, available beds were often insufficient for the number of detainees.[6] It has been observed by the Ombudsman that, due to overcrowding, people had to sleep on mattresses on the floor of the common room. The Ombudsman classified this as an inhuman treatment of detainees due to the lack of privacy and hygiene and to the lack of minimum conditions.[7] Overcrowding also impacted bathroom and toilet facilities.[8]

The Ombudsman, has previously noted that, while in EECIT Porto there is a room specifically prepared to accommodate a family, this was not the case in Lisbon, where children stayed with one parent in the collective dormitories.[9]

Each wing had a small courtyard and a common room used for meals and leisure that includes tables, chairs, and a television.[10]

In previous years, the Ombudsman has recalled the risks of mixed detention facilities such as those of EECIT Lisbon – as opposed to CIT – UHSA where men and women are accommodated on different floors – and the need to adopt adequate measures to tackle potential risks of sexual violence and exploitation against female detainees. Similar risks were identified in EECIT Faro.[11]

CPR has at times received complaints from detainees due to difficulties in accessing luggage which required prior authorisation. This information was also confirmed by the Ombudsman.[12]

Detainees at EECIT Lisbon were previously served meals provided by the airline companies, similar to those served on airplanes, and complaints regarding food were frequent. According to the Ombudsman, this has changed, and, during its 2019 visits, detainees reported being satisfied with the quality of the meals provided. The meals were deemed varied and complete.[13]

The Ombudsman considered that the detention facilities in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro were not adequate for long stays,[14] and reiterated concern with instances of excessive isolation of detainees in the facility in Porto.[15]

In 2019, the Ombudsman had issued a specific recommendation regarding excessive isolation suggesting the authorities to systematically transfer persons detained in such situations to UHSA following 7 days of detention at the border facility.[16] The recommendation was not followed by SEF that deemed its implementation unfeasible and legally doubtful.[17]

In the past, the Ombudsman has raised concerns about the lack of specific training and language skills of supporting staff from security companies to perform their duties and the impact it could have on detainees in terms of isolation and access to services such as health care. It also reported a complaint of physical abuse from staff during its visit to EECIT Lisbon , corroborated by other detainees.[18] In its report concerning 2018, the Ombudsman also referred to accounts of ill treatment by SEF officers during document controls at the border whose veracity was not confirmed.[19]

CPR has received rare, but recurrent, allegations over the years from asylum seekers regarding physical abuse by SEF inspectors mainly at the border support unit (as opposed to the detention facility, EECIT). In 2017, CPR has demanded a formal investigation into these allegations and SEF has conducted internal inquiries. According to the information provided by SEF to CPR, the procedures did not lead to any proof of wrongdoing and were therefore classified.

In March 2020, the Criminal Police arrested three SEF inspectors on suspicion of having killed a man in the detention centre at Lisbon airport in the same month.[20] According to media reports, a 40-year-old man from Ukraine who was refused entry into national territory was found dead in the detention centre with signs of having been violently assaulted. Media outlets also reported alleged efforts to conceal the facts. The trial was ongoing at the time of writing.

The Minister of Home Affairs expressed his outrage and vowed to do his best to ensure the situation was not repeated. The Minister further announced changes to be implemented in the detention centre, including that applicants for international protection would no longer be detained there.

The facility re-opened on 1 August 2020 with vastly different conditions, and a new internal regulation was approved. While it was not possible to have access to the text of the new regulation, according to official statements of the Government and media reports, it determines that applicants for international protection cannot be held in the detention centre.

During a hearing at the Parliament in December, the Ombudsman noted that a number of issued that have been identified by the National Preventive Mechanism in the past, and deemed unchangeable by the authorities have been solved, namely:[21]

  • Measures were adopted to avoid overcrowding. As asylum seekers were no longer detained, occupation was significantly reduced;
  • Detainees have now access to their personal mobile phones and can connect to wi-fi internet;
  • While previously people slept in common rooms and on the floor, now there are individual bedrooms;
  • Third party access to the facility is no longer subject to an accreditation procedure (that required payment of an access fee).

The Ombudsman also highlighted that the other EECITs remained the same.

According to information provided by the Minister of Home Affairs to the Parliament, 164 persons had been detained in EECIT Lisbon between 1 August 2020 and 11 December 2020 following decisions refusing entry into national territory. As a rule, detention lasted less than 48 hours. Three persons were detained for more than 7 days. All of them had received removal decisions and, due to air traffic limitations, it was not possible to arrange earlier flights.[22]

In April 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the detention conditions of migrants in Portugal, recommending that conditions and treatment in relevant facilities comply with international standards.[23]

According to IOM, within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, a contingency plan for UHSA was adopted by SEF. The organisation observed a stark reduction in the number of new detainees in the first months of the pandemic.

Activities

Each wing of the detention facility at EECIT Lisbon has a courtyard with tables and chairs. The courtyards in the border detention facilities have been criticised by the Ombudsman for being too small, surrounded by walls and lacking natural light.[24] As far as CPR could observe, the situation remained unchanged, at least in the first quarter of 2020.

The detention facility at Lisbon airport did not have a specific leisure area. There was a common room used for meals and leisure which included tables, chairs, and a television.[25] The lack of activities for detainees has been deemed by the Ombudsman as a mental health risk factor.[26] Mobile phones and other personal belongings of the detainees were generally confiscated upon arrival at the detention facility.[27]

During its 2019 visits, the Ombudsman observed that a small space for children was added to the common room and that some toys were available.[28]

While the law provides for access to education of children asylum seekers under the same conditions as nationals,[29] and the rules governing CIT provide for the access of detained accompanied children to education depending on the duration of their detention,[30] children in detention did not have access to education in practice either at the detention facility or by accessing normal schools.

Health care and special needs in detention

The responsibility for providing health care to asylum seekers at the border lies with the Ministry of Home Affairs that can rely on public entities and/or private non-profit organisations in the framework of a MoU to ensure the provision of such services.[31]

The Asylum Act provides for the right of asylum seekers and their relatives to adequate health care at the border (i.e., in detention),[32] and for the right of vulnerable asylum seekers in detention to regular health care that meets their particular needs.[33] The Asylum Act does not, however, specify this particular standard[34] and/or whether it differs from the general standard of health care provision in the asylum procedure.[35]

In practice, there seems to be varying levels of service provision depending on the location of detention.[36]

Until 2018, detainees at EECIT Lisbon only had access to basic medical screenings conducted by nurses of the Portuguese Red Cross (Cruz Vermelha Portuguesa, CVP) following an initial triage conducted by the security staff without any specific training or protocol.[37] Where needed, asylum seekers were referred to emergency care, including emergency mental health care in hospitals. The triage system generated complaints regarding effective and/or timely access to health care.[38]

In order to address these problems, SEF signed an MoU with the NGO Doctors of the World (Médicos do Mundo, MdM) in June 2018 for the provision of enhanced medical care at EECIT Lisbon.[39] According to MdM, the project aims to address the health condition of detainees; prevent the deterioration of chronic conditions; whenever possible, offer out-patient treatments; assist in dealing with infectious diseases within the detention area and in case of release from the detention area in cooperation with the Directorate General for Health (DGS); and train staff to deal with episodes of acute disease and treatment follow-up.[40] For that purpose, MdM was expected to provide medical and nursing care, medication, medical tests, referrals to the SNS in case of emergency care or other not eligible for out- patient treatment and referrals to DGS.

According to the Ombudsman, doctors from MdM visited the facility 3 times a week. Support was also provided by the Portuguese Red Cross (CVP) and urgent situations are referred to the hospital. The Ombudsman has in the past considered that medical visits should be more frequent and expressed concerns regarding the non-provision of psychological assistance.[41] According to the Ombudsman, the medical room improved in 2019.[42]

In 2019, CPR learned of an instance of scabies at EECIT Lisbon and was informally told that the situation was limited to the wing where persons refused entry into the territory were confined. It should be noted that the absence of arrangements for the washing of the detainees’ clothes in all airport detention facilities was criticised in the past by the Ombudsman as posing a risk to the health of both detainees, SEF inspectors and supporting staff.[43] In its 2018 report, the Ombudsman also referred to the difficulties in accessing personal belongings (including clothes) as a factor that hampers frequent change and wash of clothes.[44]

The Ombudsman has also identified gaps in access to healthcare in the detention facilities at Porto and Faro airports.

In the case of asylum seekers detained in CIT – UHSA due to removal procedures, medical care is provided by health workers from MdM.[45] Referrals to the National Health Service (SNS) can be made, including to specialised care. The Public Health Unit performs monthly visits to the facility, ensuring vaccination and issuance of the corresponding official documents. Access to a psychologist is also possible. The situation at UHSA has been recurrently described as a good practice by the Ombudsman.[46]

According to previous research,[47] and the information available to CPR, there are no specific mechanisms or standard operational procedures for the early identification of vulnerable asylum seekers and their special reception needs at the border or in pre-removal detention.

When detained (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants), vulnerable applicants are granted access to services and medical treatment under the same standards that are applicable to all detainees and have been described above.

 

[1] Ministerial Decision n. 5863/2015 of 2 June 2015 regulates in detail detention conditions by police forces, including SEF, but is only applicable to the initial 48-hour detention period.

[2] For a description of the conditions in UHSA, see Ombudsman, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República, June 2020, p.52, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN. According to the analysis conducted by the Ombudsman, detention conditions in UHSA are significantly better than the conditions observed in border detention facilities and, overall, do not raise significant concern.

[3] According to a 2017 report from the Ombudsman, this was not the case in the Porto and Faro airport facilities: Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, 22-23, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6.

[4] This has been obsevered and experienced by CPR during visits to the facilty.

[5] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.60, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[6]  Ibid, p 53.

[7]  Ibid, p 54.

[8]  Ibid. According to the 2018 report, each wing of the facility had a separate bathroom and toilet facilities that included showers with hot water, toilets, hand washing facilities, and urinals. Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, p.39, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.

[9] Ombudsman, National Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República 2018, 30 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.

[10]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.53, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[11] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, 34-36

[12] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.60, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[13] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.58, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[14]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.53,  available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[15] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.54, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[16] Ombudsman, Recomendação n.º 2/2019/MNP,2 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bwAP1L.  

[17]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.55, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[18]Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, p.21-22, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6.

[19]Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, p.46-47, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.

[20] Polícia Judiciária, Detenção de três presumíveis autores de crime de homicídio, 30 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2VKHkqM

[21] Video recording available at: https://bit.ly/3fZgcAd.

[22] Recording available at: https://bit.ly/3a0Gtdy

[23] Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Portugal, CCPR/C/PRT/CO/5. 28 April 2020, par 34(e) and 35(e), available at: https://bit.ly/2Q1ftn8.

[24]Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, p.33, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6.

[25]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.53, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[26]  Ibid, p 59. This was not the case in UHSA.

[27]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.60-62, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN. As mentioned above, following the changes in the facility, detainees have access to their personal phones and can use wi-fi internet.

[28] Ibid, p 58.

[29] Article 53 Asylum Act.

[30]  Article 146-A(7) Immigration Act.

[31]  Article 61(1) Asylum Act.

[32]  Article 56(2) Asylum Act.

[33]  Article 35(b)(8) Asylum Act.

[34] However, Article 146-A(3) Immigration Act states that a foreigner detained at a CIT or an equivalent detaining facility (i.e., at the border) is entitled to emergency and basic health care only and that special attention should be provided to vulnerable individuals, particularly to minors, unaccompanied minors, handicapped persons, elderly persons, pregnant women, families with children and survivors of torture, rape and other forms of serious psychological, physical or sexual violence.

[35] In accordance with Article 52(1) Asylum Act and Ministerial Orders (“Portaria”) No 30/2001 and No 1042/2008, asylum seekers and their relatives are entitled to medical assistance and access to medicines for basic needs, and for emergency and primary care in the National Health Service (SNS) under the same conditions as nationals. Primary care is to be understood as including at least access to general practitioners, access to specialists, inpatient care, complementary diagnostic tests and therapies, and nursing assistance. Furthermore, Article 4(1)(n) Decree-Law No 113/2011 (recast) provides for free access to the SNS by asylum seekers.

[36] See Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3gEoe1T.

[37] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, p.27, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6.

[38] Ibid.

[39]  See Público, ‘SEF e Médicos do Mundo juntos na prestação de cuidados de saúde a imigrantes’, 4 June 2018, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2JdtGcw.

[40]  MdM, Embarque na Saúde, Project Information Sheet, s.d., available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2RFBnfI.

[41]  Ombudsman, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República 2018, 30 May 2019, p.47-48, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.

[42] Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.63, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[43] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, 28-29.

[44] Ombudsman, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção – Relatório à Assembleia da República t 2018, 30 May 2019, p.40-41, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.

[45] MdM, Unidade Habitacional de Santo António, Project Information Sheet, s.d., available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2Uc068m.

[46]Ombudsman, ‘Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção, Relatório à Assembleia da República’, June 2020, p.63, available at: https://bit.ly/2Pz1ZiN.

[47] See Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3gEoe1T.

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