Country Report: General Last updated: 30/11/20


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SEF was not able to share statistics regarding the overall number of persons placed in detention during 2019 or that were in detention at the end of the year. According to the Ombudsman, a total of 2,444 third-country nationals were placed in detention in 2016 (80% of whom at Lisbon Airport), compared to 2,071 in 2015.[1] However, the figures the Ombudsman obtained from SEF do not include a breakdown by legal status of the persons detained. The recent report from the National Preventive Mechanism does not include such data.[2]

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,[3] 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. Thus, these are detention centres with a strict separation between asylum seekers and other migrants.[4]

According to SEF, detention of asylum seekers in Portugal is limited to applicants at the border. The 3 detention facilities at the border are located in the international areas of Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports and have separate detention zones for asylum seekers. The facilities have an overall capacity of 30, 14 and 14 places respectively. Out of the three, the facility at the Lisbon airport is the most relevant to the detention of asylum seekers. Bearing in mind that the Asylum Act provides for detention of asylum seekers at the border[5] which is systematically applied in practice, the 2019 statistics provided by SEF show that a total of 406 asylum seekers were submitted to border procedures and hence placed in detention for a period of up to 60 days (see Border Procedure).

Additionally, it should be noted that the law allows for the detention of an asylum seeker who applies for asylum while in detention at a CIT due to a removal procedure.[6] This possibility is systematically applied in practice by the authorities. According to the statistical information shared by SEF, 27 persons applied for asylum while in detention in 2019. According to the information available to CPR regarding 26 such applications, 10 were filled in Porto – Unidade Habitacional de Santo António (CIT – UHSA),[7] and 7 in Lisbon and 9 in Faro.

While the Asylum Act also provides for the possibility of placing in detention other categories of asylum seekers,[8] including those subjected to Dublin procedures, in practice only the aforementioned asylum seekers are systematically detained.

The competent authority to place and review the detention of an asylum seeker in a CIT[9] or in detention facilities at the border[10] is the Criminal Court which has 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 the detention within 48 hours of arrival at the border for the purpose of maintaining the asylum seeker in detention beyond that period.[11]

Taking into consideration the absence of special guarantees at the border such as social and psychological assistance, and the negative impact of detention on the mental well-being of certain categories of vulnerable asylum seekers, it is only fair to assume that detention at the border is currently having a negative impact on the quality of procedures, namely for survivors of torture and/or serious violence and victims of trafficking.

In addition, shorter deadlines and reduced procedural guarantees are applicable in the context of detention, e.g. asylum seekers in detention at the border or who apply for asylum from detention are not entitled to a 5-day period to review and offer comments regarding SEF’s written report on their status determination interview. Moreover, asylum seekers who are detained at the border, are only entitled to 5 minutes of free telephone communications for the whole period of detention. These reduced guarantees also entail risks of poorer quality decision-making, notably in light of the significant number of applications deemed manifestly unfounded under these procedures.[12] While UNHCR, CPR, legal representatives and other NGOs have effective access to asylum seekers in detention at the border in accordance with the law,[13] access to legal information as well as assistance in detention is hindered in practice by a combination of factors. This includes shorter deadlines, limited capacity of service providers, poor quality of legal assistance provided by lawyers, lack of interpretation services, and lengthy bureaucratic procedures for accessing the airports’ restricted areas.


[1] 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:

[2] Ombudsman, National Preventive Mechanism, Report to the Parliament 2018, 30 May 2019, available in Portuguese at:

[3] Council of Ministers Resolution 76/97.

[4] Indeed, as the Ombudsman recalls “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).”: Ibid, fn. 14.

[5] Articles 26(2) 35-A(3)(a) Asylum Act.

[6] Article 35-A(3)(b) Asylum Act.

[7] Decree-Law 44/2006 provides for the creation and functioning of CIT – UHSA in Porto.

[8] Article 35-A(3) Asylum Act.

[9] Article 35-A(5) Asylum Act.

[10] Article 35-A(6) Asylum Act.

[11] Ibid.

[12] According to the (partial) statistical information collected by CPR, in 2019, 247 out of 347 asylum applications adjudicated at the border and 6 out of 26 applications from detention due to removal procedures were deemed manifestly unfounded.

[13] Article 49(6) Asylum Act.


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