back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

17 March 2021 – Guinea-Bissau

DW, “COVID-19: Presidente da Guiné-Bissau Renova Estado de Emergencia,” 26 April 2020,
DW, “COVID-19: Presidente da Guiné-Bissau Renova Estado de Emergencia,” 26 April 2020,

Guinea-Bissau, with an estimated population of some 1,800,000 people, is located in West Africa and shares borders with Senegal and Guinea. As of 16 March 2021, the country had recorded 3,447 cases and 52 COVID-19 deaths. On 28 March 2020, shortly after the first case was confirmed in the country, a state of emergency with night-time curfew was introduced and international flights were suspended. Certain measures have since been lifted and borders have been reopened with additional requirements for arriving passengers, including having proof of a negative PCR test.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Guinea-Bissau as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations.

According to UNHCR, as of 28 February 2021, the country hosted 7,803 refugees and 38 asylum seekers. In December 2017, the government announced that it would naturalise 7,000 refugees in the country and in 2018, UNHCR began registering the refugees and working with a local contractor to produce and distribute ID cards and naturalisation and birth certificates. UNHCR’s chief of mission at the time said: “They were facing the risk of being stateless because of having no documents. It can be a lesson to others: how Guinea-Bissau managed to get rid of its caseload.” A major obstacle to naturalising refugees at that time was the large payment the government proposed per person–900,000 CFA (1,700 USD)–whcih was eventually reduced to to 150,000 CFA (270 USD).

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. However, at the time of this publication Guinea-Bissau had yet to submit its first state report to many treaty bodies. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Guinea-Bissau received several human rights recommendations, including: Improving “conditions of detention by overcoming prison overcrowding and improving sanitary conditions (France) (para. 119.50),” and appointing and empowering “a prison ombudsman to address complaints of inhumane treatment and poor conditions in prisons and detention centres (United States of America) (para. 119.51).”

As regards the country’s penitentiary system, according to the World Prison Brief, the country now has three prisons: Bafata, Mansoa, and a pre-trial detention centre in Bissau, with a capacity of 196 spaces. Guinea-Bissau used to have four jails, but they were destroyed during the 1998 civil war. In 2010, the UNODC and the country’s Ministry of Justice rehabilitated two prisons, which became the country’s first penitentiaries.