The government’s response to COVID-19 exposed gaps in the rights to health and housing. Discrimination against Roma continued. A man died following a beating in border police custody. Prosecutions and convictions for gender-based violence remained low.
From 18 March to 2 May, the government declared a state of emergency to control COVID-19, imposing limitations to freedoms of movement and assembly, including for religious purposes or protest. The government declared a second state of emergency on 9 November until the end of the year, restricting freedom of movement and gatherings.
Right to health
The Portuguese Medical Association reported that over half of doctors lacked adequate PPE during the first state of emergency, and that one third continued to lack PPE until the end of June. By November, 8,755 health professionals had contracted COVID-19.
Older people in care homes accounted for one third of COVID-19 deaths, which reached 6,972 by the end of the year. A criminal investigation was ongoing into the deaths of 18 people at a nursing home in Reguengos de Monsaraz, following a report concerning failures to follow government health guidelines.
With sub-standard conditions and overcrowding persisting in some prisons, the government released over 2,000 prisoners to limit contagion. However, some prisoners faced homelessness on release.
Right to housing
The government suspended foreclosures and evictions during the state of emergency and until the end of the year. Nevertheless, many families continued to lack access to adequate housing. In March, just before the suspension was in place, the City Council in the capital, Lisbon, evicted about 70 people who had occupied social housing for lack of alternatives. At least nine evicted families reported that they had not been offered alternative accommodation and had to sleep in vans, tents or entrance halls of neighbouring buildings.
There were several reports that shelters for the homeless were both insufficient and of poor quality. Support for the homeless was largely left to local authorities and volunteers.
Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
In March, the government temporarily granted access to health and social care to asylum-seekers and non-nationals with pending residency applications.
The government relocated only 72 unaccompanied minors from Greece out of 500 it had pledged to receive.
The death in custody in March of a Ukrainian national, following a beating by border police at Lisbon airport, exposed failures in the protection of people during border procedures. Three border police officials were charged with aggravated murder in September.
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed concern about reports that unaccompanied children were detained at airports. In June, the Border Control Services announced that the Child Protection Commission would ensure support for children in Lisbon airport’s border patrol facilities.
In April, the HRC expressed concern over continuing racial discrimination against Roma and people of African descent in education, employment and housing, and about reports of hate speech and hate crimes.
Violence against women and girls
In April, the HRC expressed concern at the low levels of reporting, prosecution and conviction in relation to gender-based violence.
In July, prosecutors charged a mother for subjecting her daughter to female genital mutilation, the first such case to go to trial in Portugal.