In March 2020, applicants for international protection that were detained at the border were released from administrative detention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The detention centre at Lisbon airport was closed (both due to the coronavirus pandemic and for renovation work). In the same month, the Criminal Police arrested three SEF inspectors on suspicion of having killed a man in the detention centre at Lisbon airport.
The facility re-opened on 1 August 2020 with vastly different conditions, and a new internal regulation was approved. According to official statements of the Government and media reports, the new regulation determines that applicants for international protection cannot be held in the detention centre.
While applications for international protection at the border have been made since international air traffic resumed according to CPR’s experience, and despite some unclear instances, such applicants have been granted entry into 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. SEF affirmed that the border procedure has not been applied in 2021.
At the time of writing, it is not clear whether this is temporary or will become permanent practice and whether it will apply to all national border posts. The border procedure continues to be provided in national law.
It should be noted that asylum seekers who apply for international protection while in detention due to a removal procedure continued to be subject to detention throughout the year, including in airport detention facilities.
While in early 2022 CPR provided assistance to a number of asylum seekers detained in the Lisbon airport detention centre, this only included access to the entry area and visiting rooms.
The legal framework of detention centres is enshrined in Act 34/94 which provides for the detention of migrants in Temporary Installation Centres (Centros de Instalação Temporária, CIT) that are managed by SEF either for security reasons (e.g., aimed at enforcing a removal from national territory) or for irregular entry at the border. Detention facilities at the border (EECIT), which are not CIT per se, have been classified as such by Decree-Law 85/2000 for the purposes of detention following a refusal of entry at the border.
In practice, detention of asylum seekers in Portugal has been limited to applicants at the border and to applicants for international protection that were previously detained due to a removal procedure. Since March 2020, detention of asylum seekers dropped significantly given that the border procedure is not systematically applied. Since then, according to CPR’s observation, instances of detention of asylum seekers predominantly occur when applicants for international protection were previously detained due to a removal procedure, and in cases where precautionary measures/alerts regarding the person concerned are active.
The 3 main detention facilities at the border are located in the international areas of Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports. The facilities have an overall capacity of 21, 30, and 12 places respectively. Unidade Habitacional de Santo António (CIT – UHSA) is the only temporary installation centre per se currently functioning in Portugal.
According to the information provided by SEF, only the facility in Faro has places specifically for asylum seekers (6). Out of the three, the facility at the Lisbon airport has been the most relevant to the detention of asylum seekers. According to the information previously provided by SEF, it does not have dedicated places for asylum seekers since August 2020. SEF also informed that the facilities in Faro and Porto were not functioning in 2021.
According to the data shared by SEF, out of a total of 827 migrants refused entry into national territory detained at EECIT Lisbon, 117 applied for asylum and were immediately referred to accommodation to be provided by CPR. SEF’s data also indicates that they remained in EECIT Lisbon for an average period of 2 days until accommodation within the general rules was ensured. The data provided by SEF further indicates that, in total, 331 persons have applied for asylum at the border.
SEF reported that a total of 305 persons have been detained in 2021 within the context of coercive removal procedures/by court order due to the existence of relevant alerts (180 at CIT-UHSA and 125 at Lisbon EECIT). Out of these, 46 applied for asylum while detained (37 at CIT-UHSA and 9 at EECIT Lisbon).
While the Asylum Act also provides for the possibility of placing other categories of asylum seekers in detention, including those subjected to Dublin procedures, in practice only the aforementioned possibilities have been applied in practice.
The competent authority to place and review the detention of an asylum seeker in a CIT, or in detention facilities at the border, is the Criminal Court, with territorial jurisdiction over the place where detention is imposed. In the case of detention at the border, SEF initially imposes detention, but is required to inform the Criminal Court of said detention measure within 48 hours of arrival at the border for the purpose of maintaining the asylum seeker in detention beyond that period.
In addition to the impacts of detention, shorter deadlines and reduced procedural guarantees are applicable in the context of procedures conducted while the applicants are detained. Moreover, asylum seekers who are detained may face practical restrictions contacting others outside of the facility (including by phone). These reduced guarantees may give rise to risks of poorer quality decision-making.
While UNHCR, CPR, legal representatives, and other NGOs have effective access to asylum seekers in detention at the border in accordance with the law, access to legal information as well as assistance in detention has been hindered in practice by a combination of factors, including shorter deadlines, limited capacity of service providers, poor quality of legal assistance provided by lawyers, and lack of interpretation services.
 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.
 This includes only the detention facilities at international airports, where asylum seekers may be detained. CIT are excluded.
 Council of Ministers Resolution 76/97.
 Indeed, as recalled by the Ombudsman: “The confinement of foreign citizens, including where it takes place in the international area of an airport, indeed consists in a deprivation of freedom (…) that goes beyond a mere restriction of freedom. On this matter cf. the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights n. º 19776/92, 25 June 1992 (Amuur v France).” 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/3MKjmFq. fn. 14 [unofficial translation].
 Article 35-A(3)(b) Asylum Act.
 While pre-removal facilities also exist in the airports of Ponta Delgada and Madeira, CPR is unaware of its use for detention of applicants for international protection.
 According to prior information, since 1 August 2020, the centre had a total capacity of 43 places. SEF confirmed that the capacity in 2021 was of 21 places.
 Decree-Law 44/2006 provides for the creation and functioning of CIT – UHSA in Porto.
 According to SEF, between 1 January 2020 and 4 April 2020, there were 30 places for asylum seekers in the facility.
 Article 35-A(3) Asylum Act.
 Article 35-A(5) Asylum Act.
 Article 35-A(6) Asylum Act.
 Article 49(6) Asylum Act.