The Portuguese government has said it will do away with its controversial Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF). But neither its own staff union nor migrant advocacy groups are happy about the new solution of putting other police forces in charge.
According to news agency Reuters, the government of Portugal has announced it will abolish its SEF border service on Thursday, April 15. The decision comes after a Ukrainian man was beaten to death while in SEF custody at Lisbon airport last year.
In March 2020, Ukrainian national Ihor Homeniuk "died at the airport's detention facility after arriving without the right documentation and refusing to board a deportation flight," Reuters reported. Three SEF officers were accused of murdering Homeniuk, but they said they were not guilty in their trial, which began in February.
According to Reuters, rights advocates say the incident exposed a record of abuse within the Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Service ("Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras," or SEF). Some see its termination as an attempt to suppress mounting criticism of the authorities after Homeniuk's death.
Other police forces to take over
The government announced that SEF's functions, such as border checks and human trafficking investigations, will be divided between other police forces. What's more, it said that a new administrative body, the Asylum and Foreigners Service (SEA), has been created.
"Portugal has adopted a policy of seeing the arrival of migrants as positive so … it is necessary to change the way public services deal with the phenomenon of migration by adopting a more humanistic and less bureaucratic approach," the government said.
According to Reuters, SEF employees will be given the choice of joining SEA or one of the police forces.
Also read: Portugal - target of a new migrant route?
Staff union, migrant advocates unhappy
Both the SEF staff union and migrant advocacy groups concerned about abuses at the border expressed their dissatisfaction about putting other police forces in charge. A plan to abolish the service was "unsupported" and politically-driven," the SEF workers' union said in a statement on Sunday (April 11).
Migrant advocacy groups also criticized the government's decision. According to Reuters, the groups said the government was not listening to their concerns during the restructuring process.
They also pointed out that other police forces, including national civil police force (Polícia de Segurança Pública ("Public Security Police"), or PSP) which will oversee Lisbon airport, "have been accused of racist abuse and aggression," Reuters reported.
"Eight PSP officers were found guilty of kidnapping and beating up six youths from a predominantly Black neighborhood in Lisbon" in 2018, according to Reuters.
Cyntia de Paula, head of migrant association Casa do Brasil, told Reuters "there is no point in changing someone's uniform if there are no changes in the system."