Country Report: General Last updated: 21/05/21


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In March 2020, applicants for international protection that were detained at the border were released from administrative detention. 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.[1] 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 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.

While applications for international protection at the border have been made since international air traffic resumed, until the end of the year, such applicants were 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.

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. Nevertheless, the border procedure is provided in national law and was systematically applied combined with detention at the border until March 2020.

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.

Considering that applicants for international protection have not been detained in the Lisbon airport detention centre following the renovation works, CPR did not visit the detention centre after the renovation works, Consequently, CPR does not have direct knowledge of the current conditions of the facility.

The following section must be read in light of this context.



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]

In practice, detention of asylum seekers in Portugal has been limited to applicants at the border and of applicants for international protection that were previously detained due to a removal procedure.

The 3 main detention facilities at the border are located in the international areas of Lisbon, Porto and Faro airports.[5] The facilities have an overall capacity of 43,[6] 30, and 12 places respectively.

According to the information provided by SEF, the facility at Porto airport does not have a specific detention zone for asylum seekers that, consequently, are detained in the area where there are available places. SEF further informed that the facility at the Lisbon airport does not have dedicated places to asylum seekers since August 2020.[7] Out of the three, the facility at the Lisbon airport has been 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,[8] which was systematically applied in practice until March 2020, the 2020 statistics provided by SEF show that a total of 183 asylum seekers were submitted to border procedures and hence placed in detention for a period of up to 60 days (see Border Procedure). Nevertheless, according to the data shared by SEF regarding the overall number of asylum seekers detained in airport facilities in 2020,[9] 125 asylum seekers have been detained in EECIT Lisbon, 13 in EECIT Porto,[10] and 17 in EECIT Faro. SEF’s data further indicates that a total of 1,355 persons have been placed in detention in EECIT Lisbon and 55 in EECIT Faro in the course of 2020.

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,[11] a possibility which continued to be systematically applied in practice by the authorities in 2020. According to the statistical information shared by SEF, 20 persons applied for asylum while in detention in 2020. Nevertheless, the information available to CPR based on the communications prescribed in the Asylum Act indicates that 43 such applications have been filled in 2020, the majority of which were in Porto – Unidade Habitacional de Santo António (CIT – UHSA).[12]

While the Asylum Act also provides for the possibility of placing other categories of asylum seekers in detention,[13] 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,[14] or in detention facilities at the border,[15] 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.[16]

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 has 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 procedures conducted in detention. For example, 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 may face practical restrictions contacting others outside of the facility (including by phone). These reduced guarantees may also give rise to risks of poorer quality decision-making, notably in light of the significant number of applications deemed manifestly unfounded under these procedures.[17]

While UNHCR, CPR, legal representatives, and other NGOs have effective access to asylum seekers in detention at the border in accordance with the law,[18] 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, a lack of interpretation services, and lengthy bureaucratic procedures for accessing the airports’ restricted areas.



[1] Polícia Judiciária, Detenção de três presumíveis autores de crime de homicídio, 30 March 2020, available in Portuguese at:

[2] This includes only the detention facilities at international airports, where asylum seekers may be detained. CIT are excluded.

[3] Council of Ministers Resolution 76/97.

[4] 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: fn. 14 [unofficial translation].

[5] 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.

[6] Since 1 August 2020. According to the information provided by SEF, between 1 January 2020 and 4 April 2020, the total capacity of the Lisbon airport detention facility was of 58 places.

[7] According to SEF, between 1 January 2020 and 4 April 2020, there were 30 places for asylum seekers in the facility.

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

[9] These figures likely include both applicants subject to the border procedures as well as applicants detained within the contexto of applications for international protection following a removal procedure, see infra.

[10] Transferred from EECIT Faro and, as such, likely accounted for in the data of both facilities.

[11] Article 35-A(3)(b) Asylum Act.

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

[13] Article 35-A(3) Asylum Act.

[14] Article 35-A(5) Asylum Act.

[15] Article 35-A(6) Asylum Act.

[16]  Ibid.

[17] 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. According to the information provided by SEF for 2020, 76 out of 183 applications adjudicated at the border were deemed manifestly unfounded.

[18] 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