Conditions in detention facilities

Portugal

Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 30/11/20

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]

Regarding Lisbon Airport[2] – the most relevant detention facility in the case of asylum seekers – the reception desk and operational assistance are managed by the staff of a private security company which includes male and female employees.[3] The staff is responsible among others for: initial registration; collection and access to personal belongings; administration of medication; registration and referral of requests for medical assistance; and distribution of meals. The detention facility is regularly cleaned by staff of a cleaning company. In his 2017 report, the Ombudsman considered the hygienic conditions of the facility to be good overall.[4] CPR concurs this assessment for 2019.[5]

The reception area includes an office for a member of SEF’s staff who is present at the detention facility during office hours. Additionally, there are two offices in the reception area to conduct individual interviews, one of which is used by SEF and the other by lawyers and NGOs such as CPR. Due to space and structural constraints, the offices are small and do not ensure adequate privacy, notably due to inadequate sound isolation.[6]

The detention facility has separate wings for asylum seekers and other persons who were refused entry into the territory. Each wing has two collective dormitories with bunk beds and closets that are separate for men and women. Other than a few clothes, shoes, and hygiene items, detainees are not allowed to keep personal belongings.[7] According to the Ombudsman 2018 report, the organisation of the beds limits privacy and may jeopardise the possibility to properly rest.[8] Moreover, according to the Ombudsman, while in Porto Airport there is a room specifically prepared to accommodate a family, this was not the case in Lisbon, where children stay with one parent in the collective dormitories.[9]

Each wing has a separate bathroom and toilet facilities that include showers with hot water, toilets, hand washing facilities and urinals, and a common lounge used for meals and leisure that includes tables, chairs, and a television.[10

The Ombudsman recalled the risks of mixed detention facilities such as those of the Lisbon Airport – 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 exist in Faro Airport.[11] In 2018, a detained female asylum seeker reported to have been victim of sexual harassment from one of the workers of the private security company in charge of operational assistance and from other detainees at the Lisbon Airport and the case was referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.[12]

The Ombudsman further noted that the specific needs of pregnant women and young mothers should be better accommodated, namely through the accessibility of hygienic items without the need for intervention of the supporting staff.[13] Moreover, the analysis published in 2019 confirms the lack of procedures for the identification of vulnerabilities among detainees.[14]

While underlining that the Ministerial Order on the detention of children adopted in 2018 was a positive development, and recognising some of the challenges involved, the Ombudsman reiterated that the conditions of border detention facilities are inadequate to children even for periods of up to 7 working days (see: Detention of vulnerable applicants).[15] The lack of food and hygiene items adequate for small children was also reported.

CPR has at times received complaints from detainees due to difficulties in accessing luggage which requires prior authorisation. This information was also confirmed by the Ombudsman.[16]

Detainees at Lisbon Airport are served meals provided by the air companies that are similar to those served on airplanes. At times, CPR receives complaints from detainees because of the insufficient or poor quality of the food; such complaints have also been addressed to the Ombudsman.[17]

According to information collected by CPR, including in the framework of the project “Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting”,[18] the staff from SEF at the border receives general in-house training on international protection. In late 2018, UNHCR provided training on statelessness to staff from SEF (including border staff). According to the information provided by UNHCR no further training was provided by the organisation to similar audiences in 2019. CPR is unaware of any training provided to other staff working at the airport detention facility regarding human rights and international protection.

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 the Lisbon Airport facility, corroborated by other detainees.[19] In its most recent report, the Ombudsman also refers to accounts of ill treatment by SEF officers during document controls at the border whose veracity was not confirmed.[20]

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, CIT). In 2017, the 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 2019, the Criminal Police arrested three SEF inspectors on suspicions of having killed a man in the detention centre at Lisbon airport.[21] 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. While the case was under investigation at the time of writing, both the Director and Deputy Director of Borders (Lisbon) were removed from office. The Minister of Home Affairs requested an internal investigation to the direction and functioning of the detention centre and ordered disciplinary inquiries to all the involved members of SEF.[22] The three inspectors arrested reportedly denied the claims.[23] The Minister of Home Affairs was in the meantime at the Parliament where he expressed his outrage and vowed to do his best for the situation not to be repeated. The Minister further announced changes to be implemented in the detention centre that, at the time, was closed due to the coronavirus epidemic. While details were not available at the time of writing, measures such as the provision of better support to persons refused entry by the Bar Association, and the reinforcement of monitoring (including by external entities) and security measures were referred. The Minister also affirmed that asylum seekers would no longer be detained in this detention centre. The implications of such statements are not yet clear.[24]

Following the public debate during the summer of 2018 regarding the detention of vulnerable asylum seekers and the detention conditions at Lisbon Airport (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants), the Ministry of Home Affairs adopted a decision on 24 July 2018 determining among others an inquiry into the functioning of the detention facility by the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration (Inspecção Geral da Administração Interna – IGAI) and a report from SEF to the Ombudsman regarding the state of implementation of its report recommendations from 2017. At the date of writing, CPR was not aware of the publication of the results of these initiatives.

The Ombudsman also expressed concern with frequent overcrowding of the facility in Lisbon, opposed to instances of excessive isolation of detainees in the facility in Porto.[25]

Activities

In accordance with the law, detainees in each wing of the detention facility at Lisbon Airport have unrestricted access to a courtyard of 70m2 with table and chairs during a reasonable period of time in the morning and afternoon.[26] However, the courtyards in the border detention facilities have been criticised by the Ombudsman in the past for being too small, surrounded by walls and lacking natural light.[27] As far as CPR can observe, the situation remained unchanged in 2019.

The detention facility at the Lisbon airport does not have a specific leisure area. In the absence of reading materials in different languages and other activities, the television and some toys for children[28] are the only leisure available to detainees.[29] The mobile phones and other personal belongings of the detainees are generally confiscated upon arrival at the detention facility.[30]

While the law provides for access to education of children asylum seekers under the same conditions as nationals,[31] and the rules governing CIT provide for the access of detained accompanied children to education depending on the duration of their detention,[32] children in detention do not have access to education in practice either at the detention facility or by accessing normal schools. This situation needs to be considered in light of the periods of detention of asylum-seeking children in detention facilities at the border.

 

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.[33]

The Asylum Act provides for the right of asylum seekers and their relatives to adequate health care at the border (i.e. in detention),[34] and for the right of vulnerable asylum seekers in detention to regular health care that meets their particular needs.[35] The Asylum Act does not, however, specify this particular standard[36] and/or whether it differs from the general standard of health care provision in the asylum procedure.[37]

In practice, there seems to be varying levels of service provision depending on the location of detention.[38]

Until 2018 detainees at the Lisbon Airport’s detention facility 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.[39] 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.[40]

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 the Lisbon airport detention area.[41] According to MdM, the project aims at assessing 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); training of staff to deal with episodes of acute disease and treatment follow-up.[42] For that purpose, MdM is 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 visit the facility 3 times a week. Moreover, the provision of first aid and nursing care is coordinated with the Portuguese Red Cross (CVP) and more complex situations are addressed with the support of DGS. The Ombudsman considers that medical visits should be more frequent, and expressed concerns regarding the non-provision of psychological assistance.[43]

While in the past CPR received sporadic complaints by asylum seekers detained at Lisbon Airport of difficulties in accessing requested medical assistance, including after the MoU between the SEF and the MdM came into force, no such complaints were received in the course of 2019.

In 2017, CPR was informed by DGS of an ongoing risk of chickenpox contagion at the Lisbon Airport detention facility and of the need to temporarily suspend the admission of asylum seekers released from that detention facility in CPR’s reception centres. In the framework of the legal information and assistance provided to asylum seekers detained at the Lisbon Airport, CPR also became aware of episodes of a contagion risk of scabies that required stringent containment measures. In 2019, CPR learned of another instance of scabies at Lisbon airport and was informally told that the situation was limited to the wing where persons refused entry into the territory are 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.[44] 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.[45]

In the case of asylum seekers detained in CIT – UHSA due to removal procedures, medical care is provided by doctors, nurses and psychiatrists and includes basic medical care, including dental care and medical screenings of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, medication and training of staff on health-related topics. These volunteer health workers from MdM[46] are also able to identify the needs and to make referrals to the National Health Service (SNS). Moreover, the Public Health Unit performs monthly visits to the facility, ensuring vaccination and issuance of the corresponding official documents. The situation at UHSA has been recurrently described as a good practice by the Ombudsman.[47]

According to previous research,[48] 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. This assessment has been recently confirmed by the Ombudsman.[49] SEF was not able to provide statistical data on the total number of persons with such needs detained throughout the year.

The detention facilities at the border have separate wings for asylum seekers and other individuals refused entry into the territory, and separate dormitories for men and women.

When kept in detention (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, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 38-49. According to the analysis conducted by the Ombudsman, detention conditions in UHSA are significantly better than the conditions observed in border detention facilities.

[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, available at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6, 22-23.

[4] Ibid, 30.

[5] Note that CPR only has systematic access to common areas such as the reception and offices. 

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

[7] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 40.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 39.

[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] See Público, ‘Estrangeiras detidas no aeroporto de Lisboa estão “mais expostas” a assédio’, 3 September 2018, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2C88KR3.

[13] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, available at : https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6, 34-35. The fact that vulnerable persons, including pregnant women are subjected to the same detention conditions was reiterated in the latest report of the Ombudsman. See Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 41-43.

[14]  Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 41-43.

[15] Ibid., 42.

[16] Ibid., 40-41.

[17] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, p. 41, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW.  Food provision was found adequate in CIT – UHSA, however.

[18] Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2xZqCGh.

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

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

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

[22] See, for instance, Público, Direcção do SEF demitida depois de PJ deter três inspectores suspeitos de matar ucraniano, 30 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3cHoYhi; Público, Provedora de Justiça: é urgente haver alternativas ao SEF do aeroporto, 1 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2xS2J9K; Renascença, Morte no aeroporto. Mais inspetores do SEF, enfermeiros, médicos e seguranças sob investigação, 4 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Y0J3eu.

[23] Expresso, Inspetores do SEF negam agressões fatais a imigrante ucraniano, 17 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Y1gZaO.

[24] Público, Eduardo Cabrita: houve ‘negligência grosseira e encobrimento grave’ do SEF na morte de ucraniano, 8 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2XYDm0t.

[25] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 40. The Ombudsman also 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. See Ombudsman, Recomendação n.º 2/2019/MNP,2 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bwAP1L

[26] Article 35-B(9) Asylum Act; Ombudsman, A instalação temporária de cidadãos estrangeiros não admitidos em Portugal ou em processo de afastamento do território nacional – relatório, March 2011, available at: https://bit.ly/2S10lo1

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

[28] Article 146-A(7) Immigration Act governing CIT states that accompanied children in detention must be offered leisure activities, including age appropriate games and recreational activities.

[29] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6, 33-34. Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 39-41.

[30] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 40-41.

[31] Article 53 Asylum Act.

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

[33] Article 61(1) Asylum Act.

[34] Article 56(2) Asylum Act.

[35] Article 35(b)(8) Asylum Act.

[36] 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.

[37] 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.

[38] See Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2xZqCGh.

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

[40] Ibid.

[41] 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.

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

[43] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 47-48.

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

[45] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 40-41.

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

[47] Ombudsman, Tratamento dos cidadãos estrangeiros em situação irregular ou requerentes de asilo nos centros de instalação temporária ou espaços equiparados, September 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/3eLMNX6, 28;  Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 48.

[48] See Italian Council for Refugees et al., Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting, October 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2xZqCGh.

[49] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2S7tdcW, 42.

 

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