Portugal retained more than 70 foreign children, mostly refugees, in its care in 2018, according to new data published earlier this week. According to research, detentions in some cases allegedly lasted for longer than legally allowed, which the government has said was to “prevent human trafficking”.
In a report this week, newspaper Público explains that children in question arrive in Portugal accompanied or even alone, and are usually detained due to the irregular situation of their relatives.
This practice violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an agreement ratified by Portugal which stipulates that no child should be detained because of the legal status of the parents.
According to data published by Público and contained in the annual report of the European Council for Refugees, in 2018, 74 children were held by the SEF immigration and borders service in Portugal at the 36 Portuguese border points in these circumstances.
Of the 74 children detained, 51 were accompanied by adults and 23 were alone, according to the report on refugees. Most were reportedly held at Lisbon airport and often for a period longer than allowed by law; a directive published by the Government in 2018 indicates that minors under 16 should not be detained for more than seven days.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has justified SEF’s actions as being a measure to prevent human trafficking.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Centre for Refugees admits that the average time of detention of children has decreased, but argues that children should be sent to reception centres equipped for the purpose, instead of being held in SEF centres.
The UN refugee agency has previously called upon Portugal’s Justice Ombudsman to intervene in such situations, following a similar report last summer.
In July last year the General Inspectorate of Home Affairs said it would be launching an investigation into child asylum-seekers being held at a borders and immigration Temporary Holding Centre (CIT) at Lisbon Airport, in breach of UN human rights guidelines sanctioned by Portugal.
The situation and subsequent probe was also brought to light following a report by newspaper Público, on migrant children who arrive in Portugal accompanying adult asylum seekers, mostly from Africa and Brazil.
At the time the newspaper warned that children have routinely been held by Portugal’s Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) at the CIT facility since 2017, in contrast to international human rights conventions to which Portugal is committed. It highlighted one particular case in which the report claimed the child had been held at the centre for six weeks.
It resulted in the UN’s refugee branch, ACNUR, bringing the situation to the attention of Portugal’s Justice Ombudsman, Maria Lúcia Amaral, who is charged with overseeing the observance of human rights and rules.
However, she stated that while she has the responsibility she does not have the means to enforce them.
Portugal’s Home Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita also ordered SEF to draw up an urgent report on compliance with the Justice Ombudsman’s recommendations.