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Portugal’s government ignores UN rules when arresting foreign children

SEFPortugal’s Ministry of Internal Affairs justifies the detention in SEF centres of foreign children arriving in the country as ‘necessary to prevent trafficking in human beings.’

The 74 children detained last year arrived in Portugal the company of their parents or alone and were detained due to the ‘irregular situation’ of the family.

In 2018, 74 children were detained in Portugal in these circumstances, with the Aliens and Borders Service (SEF) being responsible for the arrests at 36 Portuguese border points.

Most children were held at Lisbon airport, often for a period longer than allowed by law under a 2018 government directive indicating that under 16-year-olds should not be detained for more than seven days.

The arrest and detention data is contained in the European Council for Refugees annual report which showed that, of the 74 children detained, 51 were accompanied by adults and 23 were alone.

The children’s detention at SEF centres violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Portugal, which states that ‘no child should be detained because of the legal status of the parents.’

The UN refugee agency already has called on the Ombudsman to intervene on such situations.

The Ministry of Internal Administration justifies the practice as, ‘a necessary preventive measure to combat trafficking in human beings.’

The Portuguese Centre for Refugees says the average time of detention of children has decreased, but points out that children should be sent to reception centres specially prepared for this purpose, instead of being detained in SEF centres.