Portugal’s immigration chief resigns months after Ukrainian man dies at Lisbon airport

The Ukrainian man tried to enter Portugal without a visa last March and was detained by immigration authorities.

The head of Portugal’s immigration service has resigned after months of backlash, following the death of a Ukrainian man in Lisbon airport. The 40-year-old man, Ihor Homeniuk, had tried to enter Portugal without a valid visa last March and was detained by immigration authorities after refusing to board a flight out of the country, two days later he was found dead in his holding cell.

Cristina Gatoes, chief of the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), tendered her resignation with immediate effect on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Opposition PSD lawmaker Ricardo Leite said on Twitter that her resignation was “the only possible action”. Last month, Gatoes reported that investigations had found that Ihor Homeniuk’s treatment at the airport had led to his death. “I’m pretty certain that what we are looking at is a case of torture,” she told public broadcaster RTP. In September, Portugal’s public prosecutor charged three immigration officers with the man’s manslaughter, accusing them of assaulting him with a baton when he became “agitated” over his detention.

Meanwhile, the government says it plans to restructure the country’s border service and install panic buttons in airport holding cells. Human rights activists have stated that these measures are an inadequate response to the incident. The ‘panic button’ does not remedy a problem, on the contrary, it is a rudimentary way of admitting that it exists, the non-profit organisation Humans Before Borders (HuBB) said. “It creates an ineffective and shameful escape, which does not respect the dignity of those who may be forced to press it, putting a band-aid on a structural problem.” HuBB has accused border authorities of a “cover-up” of the Homeniuk’s death and says there is a “structural problem” in SEF.

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