Portugal’s border police force faces “dismantling” following beating to death of Ukrainian national

Nine months after a Ukrainian father-of-two was beaten to death at a SEF border guard facility in Lisbon airport it seems more than likely that the whole structure will be dismantled.

Sources close to the Public Ministry have told tabloid Correio da Manhã that the policing of Portugal’s borders and the combat of human trafficking will “very probably” pass to another force – either the PSP or the GNR, or even a combination of both.

Meantime the political fallout of what happened to Ihor Homeniuk is finally reaching a crescendo (click here). The Council of Ministers, for example, has today announced that the government is “assuming in the name of the State responsibility for paying an indemnity for the death of a citizen in its care within public installations”.

In many ways it is unimaginable that it has taken this long for Portugal to ‘take responsibility’ and for the announcement yesterday that SEF’s director Cristina Gatões has finally fallen on her sword and resigned.

Even som news of the resignation had something of a bitter ring to it: there are suspicions that Ms Gatões will be walking into a plum job ‘supporting the Portuguese community in UK after Brexit’. 

If this really is the case, politicians in at least two opposition parties (PSD and Iniciativa Liberal) suggest it reeks of ‘cronyism’.

Nine months on and it looks more and more like ‘the opposition’ could be pushing for the resignation of Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita – due to address parliament on this terrible chapter on Tuesday.

By deeply ironic coincidence it is the International Day of Human Rights today: to this end the interior ministry has issued a press statement cataloging its actions following Mr Homeniuk’s hideous death – confirming the disciplinary cases levelled against 12 SEF inspectors, not just the three accused of his murder – and insisting on its commitment to establishing “the whole truth and consequent criminal and disciplinary responsibilities”.

But this can never be enough for Mr Homeniuk’s widow Oksana who has made it clear that she simply “cannot understand” how something as inhumane as her husband’s prolonged beating could have happened in a (civilised) European country.

“So many people saw him. So many people knew what was happening and no one helped”, she told SIC television in an emotional interview. “Still today I cannot understand how this could have happened”.

Acácio Pereira, the head of SEF’s syndicate, has admitted his service has no idea where it’s headed. “We only know that we will be received (by the government/ interior ministry) next week”, he told reporters.

A restructured SEF is likely to continue to deal with ‘administrative issues’ concerning the legalisation of immigrants and decisions on asylum etc. But whether this issue can indeed be ‘tackled’ without further heads rolling looks unlikely.

An inquiry by IGAI (the general inspectorate of Internal Administration, an entity that is meant to be independent) delivered what Diário de Notícias described last month as a “portrait of a police force that is out of control and which acted in complete disrespect for the law and human rights”.

How any minister could survive that level of criticism of a structure under his watch we can only wait to find out.


Now President Marcelo has spoken on the issue: “We have to discover whether this was an isolated case or if it is a problem of the whole system,” he told reporters. “If it turns out to be the system, it will need to be substituted by another”, he added, stressing it could follow that more heads would roll. “It has to be established if those who gave life to the system could give life to what follows”…

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