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 SEF pursuant to internal regulations.
A new general regulation governing the placement of foreign and stateless persons in CIT and EECIT has been approved by the Minister of Home Affairs in July 2020. The regulation explicitly refers that it is applicable to applicants for international protection, and that, in such cases, detention is subject to the rules provided by the Asylum Act. It also establishes, inter alia, that:
- Possible victims of trafficking in human beings and unaccompanied children should be accommodated in adequate facilities;
- SEF must inform detainees, according to the law, of the grounds of detention, status of their file and their rights and duties in a language that they understand or may be reasonably presumed to understand;
- Transfers of persons between facilities may occur in order to ensure adequate reception conditions;
- Each facility must have an internal regulation, to be approved by the National Director of SEF;
- SEF is responsible for the management of the facilities and for the coordination of the fulfilment of the basic needs of detainees. The entity must appoint a person to be in charge of each facility;
- The Ministry of Social Security and the Ministry of Health are responsible for the fulfilment of needs within their scope of action in centres located within the national territory;
- Private companies may be hired to ensure the security of persons and goods;
- Staff working in the facilities must have multidisciplinary training (namely with regard to languages) and the teams must be composed of both men and women;
- SEF may establish cooperation protocols with civil society organisations within this context;
- Upon consent, detainees must be subject to a clinical evaluation performed by a healthcare professional. Access to healthcare (including psychological care) free of charge must be ensured during the detention, specific care is to be provided to particularly vulnerable persons;
- Detainees are entitled to visits from direct family members and lawyers. Specific rules on schedules and duration of visits must be included in the internal regulation of each facility. Visits by entities entitled to access by the law are subject to the rules applicable to lawyers;
- If they wish, detainees can be contacted and visited by the diplomatic/consular authorities of their country of origin;
- Specific rules are established for telephone calls, namely the distribution of calling cards or access to telephones for a reasonable period of time. As a general rule, possession of communication equipment is forbidden unless the internal regulations state otherwise;
- The facilities must ensure the dignity of detainees, provide for their separation by gender and age (except in the case of families), have an outdoor space and available leisure activities. Measures must be adopted to prevent violence, inhuman treatment or abuse by other detainees;
- The food provided must be subject to quality control, be sufficient, and respect dietary or philosophical/religious beliefs;
- Detainees are to be provided with a hygiene kit, access to toilets bathrooms with hygiene and security, and the necessary conditions to wash clothes must be ensured. Access to luggage must also be ensured;
- A monitoring commission to evaluate and monitor the functioning of the relevant facilities composed by representatives from SEF, IGAI, Ombudsperson and ACM is to be established. It must meet at least twice a year.
- 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.
Until March 2020, the detention facility at Lisbon airport was the most relevant detention space of applicants for international protection (mostly within the context of border procedures). As mentioned, it was closed in March 2020 both due to the coronavirus pandemic and to renovation works. The facility reopened in August 2020, but the application of the asylum border procedures has not resumed.
According to the information publicly available, the new regulation of EECIT Lisbon explicitly excludes detention of applicants for international protection in the facility. While there were cases of applicants for international protection detained in the facility in 2021 (mainly cases where the application for asylum is made following a removal decision), the figures are much lower than in previous years (see: General).
According to the information provided by SEF, in 2021, the EECIT Lisbon had an overall capacity of 21 places, of which 18 are divided in two different wings for men and women. It further has a family room with capacity for two persons and another room for persons with special needs (e.g. reduced mobility) with capacity for one person.
In its latest report, covering 2020, the National Preventive Mechanism noted that the renovation was overall positive and took into account relevant concerns such as security, privacy and contact with the exterior.
In terms of physical conditions, the National Preventive Mechanism further noted that the family and the multipurpose rooms have private bathrooms, and that there is a room that can be used for isolation. While the facility was previously composed by collective dormitories, these were converted in individual rooms (7 per wing) and double rooms (1 per wing). The Ombudsperson deemed the conditions adequate (dimension, natural light, security mechanisms – e.g. access through key card, panic button system).
Each wing continues to have a common area, with furniture that has been renovated and that includes an area for meals. The report also highlights the creation of a prayer room that can be used upon scheduling to avoid conflicting practices. The toilet and bathroom facilities are shared and were deemed as having good conditions by the Ombudsperson, that has also highlighted that washing and dryer machines have been added to the facility. Each wing continues to have a small courtyard.
The reception area of the facility includes an office for a member of SEF’s staff and two offices for visits, including by lawyers and NGOs such as CPR. Due to space and structural constraints, the offices continue to be small and did not ensure adequate privacy, notably due to inadequate sound isolation.
According the National Preventive Mechanism, following the reopening, the facility’s staff increased. Additionally, SEF officers are now in the facility 24h per day. Staff of a private security company continues to be present in the facility and to perform certain logistical tasks such as ensuring that the food provided to detainees is adequate to their diet/religious needs. While the other tasks are not specified in the report, in the past, those included initial registration; collection and access to personal belongings; provision of medication; registration and referral of requests for medical assistance; and distribution of meals.
The preparation of meals is ensured by a catering company and, according to the Ombudsperson, the number of meals and dietary options provided was reinforced.
Information on the current cleaning arrangements is not available. According to CPR’s observation, in the past, the facility was regularly cleaned by a cleaning company.
Access to personal belongings has been a recurring issue in the EECIT Lisbon in the past. According to the latest available report of the National Preventive Mechanism, while the new rules allowed detainees to keep some luggage following a security check, in practice, in 2020, access was still dependent on support from the facility’s staff.
Detainees may now use their mobile phones in the rooms, a significant change to the prior practice. Nevertheless, according to the Ombudsperson, access to free wi-fi internet should also be ensured.
In the past, the Ombudsperson 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. Updated information in this regard was not available at the time of writing.
In the past, 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). In 2017, CPR has requested a formal investigation into specific allegations and SEF 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. No such reports were received in 2020 and 2021.
As previously reported, in March 2020, the Criminal Police arrested three SEF inspectors on suspicion of having killed a man in the detention centre at Lisbon airport.
According to the report of the National Preventive Mechanism, EECIT Porto closed on 13 August 2020 following a riot and escape of a group of detainees from the facility that left it inoperable. It further details that the necessary construction work had not been initiated as of January 2021. The information provided by SEF to AIDA confirms that the facility was closed throughout the year.
As per the referred report, persons refused entry into national territory in Porto airport would either remain in its international area or be transferred to the EECIT Lisbon if re-embarkation took more than 24 hours. It also noted that applicants for international protection would be transferred to CIT-UHSA. This might indicate a possible differential treatment to persons applying for asylum at Lisbon airport. However, at the time of writing, CPR could not confirm if this happened in practice.
The number of applications for international protection made in Porto was already traditionally low before the pandemic. In the past, the Ombudsperson has even expressed concern with instances of excessive isolation of detainees in the facility in Porto.
In 2019, the Ombudsperson 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. The recommendation was not followed by SEF, that deemed its implementation unfeasible and legally doubtful.
According to the report of the National Preventive Mechanism, EECIT Faro has also been significantly damaged following an escape from detainees in July 2020 and was in need of construction work as a consequence.
According to the information provided by SEF, the facility has not functioned in 2021.
With regards to the conditions of the facility in 2020, the National Preventive Mechanism expressed concern with a number of issues such as: limitations to access to personal belongings and lack of information on relevant procedures, absence of washing/drying machines in the facility, lack of access to mental healthcare, limitations to contacts with the exterior (both in terms of visits and phone calls), and lack of interpreters/translation of relevant leaflets.
As in previous reports, the Ombudsperson continued to note that, overall, CIT-UHSA has better conditions that the EECITs, and is suitable for longer stays.
In terms of physical conditions, the facility continued to have separate wings for men and women, as well as a family room. There is a big outdoor space whose use depends on being accompanied by staff of the facility/volunteers. Daily cleaning is ensured and the Ombudsperson deemed the food provided varied and adequate. Access to personal belongings that to do not jeopardise physical integrity is allowed.
Access to personal mobile phones is allowed in certain periods of the day, and detainees may also have access to a mobile phone provided by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) staff present in the facility.
Overall, the National Preventive Mechanism expressed concern with the lack of access to free wi-fi, and with the lack of adequate regulation of the use and conditions of placement in the cell-room (a measure that may be adopted when the security of the facility is compromised).
According to IOM, the number of SEF officers in the facility increased in 2021.
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 Ombudsperson in the past for being too small, surrounded by walls and lacking natural light. As far as CPR is aware, the situation remains unchanged.
The lack of activities for detainees in EECIT Lisbon has been deemed by the Ombudsperson as a mental health risk factor in the past. According to its 2021 report, there were improvements in terms of availability of leisure activities and specific materials for children have also been added to the facility.
According to the latest available report of the National Preventive Mechanism, while the new rules of EECIT Lisbon allowed detainees to keep some luggage following a security check, in practice, in 2020, access to personal belongings was still dependent on support from the facility’s staff.
While in the past mobile phones of detainees were confiscated upon arrival and its use was not allowed, according to the National Preventive Mechanism, detainees may now use their mobile phones in the rooms. Nevertheless, according to the Ombudsperson, access to free wi-fi internet should also be ensured.
The latest report of the National Preventive Mechanism available at the time of writing refers that there is a lack of leisure activities in EECIT-Faro.
CIT-UHSA has big outdoor space whose use depends on detainees being accompanied by staff of the facility/volunteers.  Access to personal mobile phones is allowed in certain periods of the day. Access to personal belongings that to do not jeopardise physical integrity is allowed. According to the report National Preventive Mechanism published in 2021, in 2020, more toys were made available in the facility and it had a play room that was well equipped. The National Preventive Mechanism has also highlighted that detainees should be provided access to free wi-fi in the facility.
While the law provides for access to education of children asylum seekers under the same conditions as nationals, and the rules governing CIT provide for the access of detained children to education depending on the duration of their detention, children in detention do 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.
The Asylum Act provides for the right of asylum seekers and their relatives to adequate health care at the border (i.e., in detention), and for the right of vulnerable asylum seekers in detention to regular health care that meets their particular needs. The Asylum Act does not, however, specify this particular standard, and/or whether it differs from the general standard of health care provision in the asylum procedure.
In practice, there seems to be varying levels of service provision depending on the location of detention.
Until 2018, detainees at EECIT Lisbon only had access to basic medical screenings conducted by nurses of the Portuguese Red Cross following an initial triage conducted by the security staff without any specific training or protocol. 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.
In order to address these problems, in June 2018, SEF signed an MoU with the NGO Doctors of the World (Médicos do Mundo, MdM) for the provision of enhanced medical care at EECIT Lisbon. 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. For that purpose, MdM was expected to provide medical and nursing care, medication, medical tests, and referrals to the SNS.
According to the Ombudsperson, in 2020, the medical room was improved and doctors from MdM visited the facility 3 times a week. In the past, support was also provided by the Portuguese Red Cross and urgent situations were referred to the hospital but this information has not been confirmed in the latest report. The Ombudsperson has in the past considered that medical visits should be more frequent and expressed concerns regarding the non-provision of psychological assistance.
In the past, the Ombudsperson has also identified gaps in access to healthcare in the detention facilities at Porto and Faro airports. In its report published in 2021, it stated that there is also a protocol with MdM for EECIT Faro, but expressed concern with the lack of access to mental healthcare.
According to prior information, in the case of asylum seekers detained in CIT – UHSA due to removal procedures, medical care is provided by health workers from MdM. 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. While no specific references to the topic have been included in the latest report, the situation at UHSA has been recurrently described as a good practice by the Ombudsperson in the past.
According to previous research, 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.
 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.
 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: https://bit.ly/3MmNbvp.
 Articles 1(1) and 3.
 Article 1(2).
 Article 5(2).
 Article 7(1).
 Article 8(4).
 Article 9(1) and (2).
 Article 9(3).
 Article 9(4).
 Article 9(5).
 Article 9(6).
 Article 10.
 Articles 12, 13 and 15.
 Article 14.
 Article 16.
 Article 19.
 Article 23.
 Article 25.
 Article 28.
 Ibid, pp.92 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.92 and 94.
 This has been observed and experienced by CPR during visits to the facility in early 2022.
 Ibid, pp.92 and 97.
 Ibid, p.94.
 Ibid, pp.94 et seq.
 Polícia Judiciária, Detenção de três presumíveis autores de crime de homicídio, 30 March 2020, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2VKHkqM. For information on subsequent developments on the judicial procedures related to this case, see, for instance FRA, Migration: Key Fundamental Rights Concerns, 1.10.2021-31.12.2021, p.27, available at: https://bit.ly/3xKdAz0.
 Ibid, pp.97 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.101 et seq.
 Ibid, pp. 102 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.103 et seq.
 Ibid, 103-105.
 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.
 Ibid, p.94.
 Ibid, pp.94 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.101 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.103 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.102 et seq.
 Ibid, pp.94 et seq.
 Article 53 Asylum Act.
 Article 146-A(7) Immigration Act.
 Article 61(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 56(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 35(b)(8) Asylum Act.
 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.
 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.
 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.