Access to the territory and push backs


Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 25/03/21


As stated by the European Commission, arrivals in Spain, and in particular to the Canary Islands, significantly increased (+46%, 35,800) in 2020 compared to 2019. In Spain, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on irregular arrivals was temporary: since August 2020, the number of arrivals to Spain was consistently greater than in 2019.[1] National statistics confirm this trend and even indicate a higher number of arrivals than the one provided by the European Commission.[2] According to the national authorities, a total of 41,861 persons arrived in Spain in 2020, thus marking an increase of 29% compared to 2019 (32,449 arrivals).[3] In 2020, this refers to 1,755 arrivals by land, and 40,106 arrivals by sea, thus demonstrating that the vast majority of persons arrived by boat.

The sections below describe the numerous hurdles faced by migrants and asylum seekers in accessing Spanish territory and subsequently the asylum procedure. This includes incidents of push backs, collective expulsions, police violence (especially on the Moroccan side of the border), bilateral agreements with third countries to swiftly return persons back, and dangerous attempts by the concerned individuals to reach Spanish territory or cross over the border fences.

As regards relocation and resettlement, which are issues not usually covered by this report, it is worth mentioning that the Government reported that in 5 years more than 3,900 persons have been resettled or relocated in Spain, out of which 200 persons were resettled/relocated in 2020.[4] This information was shared following a parliamentary request by two members of the party Unión del Pueblo Navarro (UPN).

As regards border monitoring, UNHCR carries out monitoring activities at Spanish borders, including through its physical presence in Melilla and periodic visits to Ceuta. It also carries out periodic visits to the Madrid and Barcelona Airports. In relation to sea arrivals, the UN Agency has a permanent presence in the Autonomous Community of Andalucía, namely in Málaga (covering Motril and Almería) and in Algeciras (covering the Cádiz province as well). UNCHR further carries out periodic visits to the main points of disembarkation of boat arrivals, i.e. in Algeciras, Málaga, Motril and Almería.

Monitoring is carried out by visiting and assessing the situation in border facilities. This includes assessing the conditions in the facilities, the access to information on asylum, the way in which asylum interviews are carried out, as well as the access to interpretation and legal assistance. UNHCR generally supports, advises and recommends authorities and NGOs on how to improve access to territory and the procedure, in compliance with international and national legal standards.


Arrivals in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla

The number of persons arriving in Spain by land in 2020 was 1,755, marking an important decrease compared to the number of arrivals in 2019 which amounted to 6,346.

Arrivals in Spain by land: 2020
Point of entry Number of irregular arrivals
Ceuta  340
Melilla  1,415
Total arrivals by land  1,755

Source:  Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2020, available in Spanish at .

In recent years, the main obstacles regarding access to the Spanish territory are faced at the Ceuta and Melilla borders and checkpoints. These obstacles are mainly due to the impossibility of asylum seekers to cross the border and exit Morocco. There are several reported cases concerning refusal of entry, refoulement, collective expulsions and push backs, including incidents involving up to a thousand persons during 2018,[5] and hundred persons during 2019 and 2020.

One of the ways used by migrants and asylum seekers to enter the territory is the attempt to climb border fences in groups. The increasing numbers of attempts to jump border fences are linked to the fact that migrants and asylum seekers, and mostly Sub-Saharan nationals, still face significant obstacles in accessing the asylum procedure at Spanish borders, as a result of border controls exercised by the Moroccan police on the Moroccan side of the border.[6] This can be illustrated when looking at the data provided by the Government on asylum claims lodged at the border, which indicates that no asylum application was made at Ceuta’s border checkpoint, and that persons from sub-Saharan countries are underrepresented among the nationalities of asylum seekers at Melilla’s border (see section on Border Procedure).

Similarly to the previous update of this report which provided a list of incidents at the border in 2019, the following list provides an overview of several incidents that were reported at the border in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021:

  • In January, a 17 years-old girl was detected by the Guardia Civil in the glove box of a car while trying to cross the Melilla border;[7]
  • In April, around 260 migrants from Sub-Saharan countries jumped over the Melilla fence. Out of them, 55 persons managed to enter the enclave and 38 were immediately returned to Morocco;[8]
  • In August, an unaccompanied minor from Morocco drowned while trying to reach a passenger boat which was heading to the mainland;[9]
  • Following renovations at the Ceuta and Melilla fences that started in 2019 in order to remove the steel wire, different organisations reported that the height of the fences were increased by 30%, thus further increasing the risk of breaching human rights standards.[10] Moreover, following a jump over the Melilla fence by around 300 migrants, only 50 of them managed to entre Spain and one person died.[11]
  • In August the Government announced an enlargement of the asylum post at the Melilla border with a budget €138,000,[12] and of the asylum post in Ceuta with a budget of €125,000, despite the fact that the latter has never been used since it was opened.[13] A research carried out by the newspaper Público and the Fundación porCausa denounced the shadow industry of migration control in Spain, referring to more than €660 million in 5 years, and 1,677 public contracts signed without public tenders.[14]
  • At the beginning of September, 4 migrants from Maghreb jumped over Melilla fence;[15]
  • A policy brief published in October by Caritas Europa and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung denounces the practice of summary deportations of migrants at the borders of Ceuta and Melilla, without being given the possibility to explain their individual situation and needs. It concluded that “migrants, including asylum seekers, are directly deported without an individual examination at the border or the opportunity to apply for a procedure”;[16]
  • In October, the Ministry of Interior achieved its renovations of the Melilla It now consists of a 10-meters high metallic structure that impedes persons from climbing. The new fence is 100-meters long and covers the borders between Beni Enzar and Dique Sur, and will extend on the points that the Minister of Interior considers “most vulnerable.”[17]
  • In December 2020 a Moroccan migrant achieved for the first time to climb over the new fence structure which had been fortified to prevent climbing in Ceuta.[18]
  • In January 2021, around 150 migrants tried to jump over the fence in Melilla and 87 achieved to enter the Spanish enclave.[19]
  • In January 2021, a report published by the organisation Irídia denounced the serious human rights violations occurring on the Canary Islands and at the Melilla border fence between December 2020 and January 2021, especially regarding the access to territory, push-backs, deportations, and receptions conditions[20]

The above incidents demonstrate that migrants and asylum seekers continue to resort to dangerous ways to enter Ceuta and Melilla, sometimes resulting in deaths. Further incidents at the border are likely to continue in 2021.

It should be noted that during 2019, the Government applied the border procedure to asylum seekers who had jumped the fence in Ceuta (see section on Border procedure (border and transit zones). This did not occur in 2020, however.

A serious lack of interpreters to ensure proper communication between the newcomers and the authorities has been reported (see Conditions in CETI). Moreover, problems of overcrowding at the CETI, where people are placed after having jumped over the fence, have been reported throughout 2019 and 2020.

The persisting problem of push backs (devoluciones en caliente)

The situation at borders and regarding access to territory has gradually worsened since March 2015, after the Spanish government adopted an amendment to the Aliens Act, introducing the possibility to “reject at borders” third-country nationals that are found crossing the border illegally.

The amendment, introduced through the adoption of the Law “on the protection of citizen security”,[21] includes a specific regulation within the Aliens Act concerning the “Special regime of Ceuta and Melilla”. This new regime consists of three elements:

  • It rules that “those foreigners who are detected at Ceuta’s and Melilla’s border lines when trying to pass the border’s contentious elements to irregularly cross the border, can be rejected to avoid their illegal entry in Spain”;
  • It declares that “these rejections will be realised respecting the international law on human rights and international protection ratified by Spain”;
  • Lastly, it states that “international protection claims will be formalised at the ad hoc border point in line with international protection obligations.”

In practice, when a person is found within Spanish border territory, which includes the land between the Moroccan and Spanish border, he or she is taken outside the Spanish border through existing passages and doors controlled by border guards.

The amendment aimed at legalising the push backs (devoluciones en caliente) practiced in Ceuta and Melilla, and has been criticised for ignoring human rights and international law obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees by several European and international organisations such as UNHCR,[22] the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights,[23] and the United Nations Committee against Torture. Critics regard the fact that people are not able to request asylum, and that the law mostly affects groups in vulnerable situation, including unaccompanied minors and victims of trafficking.

These circumstances make Spain one of the European countries with the highest numbers of refusal of entry at the border. According to Eurostat, Spain issued in 2019 more refusals of entry than the other 27 EU Member States combined, with 493,455 third country nationals affected: The above figure further demonstrates that the number of refusals of entry in Spain consistently increased since 2015.

Several cases have been brought to court to challenge the conduct of Spanish border control patrols and guards.

N.D and N.T v Spain

One case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerned two Sub-Saharan men – from Mali and the Ivory Coast respectively – who alleged having been summarily and collectively expelled from Spanish territory on 13 August 2014 as part of a group of over 75 individuals. On 3 October 2017, the ECtHR held unanimously that there had been a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions of the right to an effective remedy in conjunction with said prohibition under Article 4 Protocol 4 and Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[24]

The Court noted that the appellants, N.D. and N.T., had been expelled and sent back to Morocco against their wishes and that the removal measures were taken in the absence of any prior administrative or judicial decision, since the appellants were not subject to any identification procedure by the Spanish authorities. The Court concluded that, in those circumstances, the measures were indeed collective in nature. Lastly, the Court noted the existence of a clear link between the collective expulsion to which N.D. and N.T. were subjected at the Melilla border and the fact that they were effectively prevented from having access to a remedy that would have enabled them to submit their complaint to a competent authority and to obtain a thorough and rigorous assessment of their requests before their removal.

However, the Spanish government has successfully requested a referral of the Court’s decision to the Grand Chamber, and refuses to amend the Law on Citizens Security, as other parties within the Congress have asked.[25] Different organisations and countries intervened in the written proceedings as third parties, such as the Spanish Commission of Aid to Refugees (CEAR), the AIRE Centre, Amnesty International, ECRE, the Dutch Council for refugees and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).[26] The Grand Chamber hearing was held on 26 September 2018.[27]

On 13 February 2020, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (GC) published its judgment in the case of N.D and N.T v Spain concerning the immediate return of the two men to Morocco after attempting to cross the border of the Melilla enclave.[28] The GC addressed whether the removal of the applicants amounted to an expulsion or ‘non-admission’ of entry. It interpreted expulsion in the generic sense, consistent with previous findings, to mean any forcible removal irrespective of, inter alia, the lawfulness of an applicant’s stay. Indeed, a collective expulsion is characterised as an absence of a reasonable and objective examination of each applicant’s particular case. In the present case, both requirements were satisfied.[29]

Moreover, the GC was not convinced that the State had failed to provide a genuine and effective access to means of legal entry, and concluded that the applicants had in fact placed themselves in jeopardy by participating in storming the border rather than using the existing procedures. In particular, the GC observed that the applicants could have applied for visas or for international protection at a border crossing point. It concluded that the applicants’ expulsions did not violate Article 4 Protocol 4. However, it added that this finding does not alter the broad consensus within the international community regarding the obligation for States to protect their borders in a manner compliant with Convention rights, highlighting in particular the principle of non-refoulement.[30]

Furthermore, the GC found that the applicants placed themselves in an unlawful situation by deliberately attempting to enter Spain as part of a large group rather than using available legal procedures. The lack of available individual procedures to challenge the removal was therefore deemed a consequence of the applicant’s unlawful attempt to gain entry. The GC held there was no violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 4 Protocol 4.[31]

This GC’s decision has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations and other several stakeholders, including the Progressist Union of Public Prosecutors,[32] who saw a lost opportunity in condemning the Spanish authorities for their pushback practices at the border.[33] The concerns raised by the latter organisations relate in particular to the fact, while legal remedies are laid down in national law as confirmed by the GC, these are not effectively implemented in practice (i.e. lack of individual assessment of international protection needs, lack of identification of minors, impossibility for certain persons/nationalities to access the border through Morocco, etc.).

Following the decision, the NGO CEAR launched a manifesto urging the Government to immediately stop illegal pushbacks practices and gathered the support of about 100 legal practitioners, academics and relevant professionals.[34]

The Constitutional Court’s ruling of 19 November 2020

On 19 November 2020, the Spanish Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional) endorsed the Organic Law on the protection of citizen security, which establishes a special regime for the rejection at the borders in Ceuta and Melilla.[35] After analysing the constitutional doctrine and the ECtHR’s jurisprudence, the Constitutional Court concluded that the law is in line with the Spanish Constitution. As regards specifically the legal framework on Ceuta and Melilla, the Court concluded that the special regime foreseen is constitutional because it is in line with the ECtHR’s jurisprudence on the material execution of a rejection at the border. Nevertheless, the Court underlined the importance of judicial control and effective remedies to appeal a rejection at the border. In addition, the Court stated that a rejection decision at the border should be issued in light of all the guarantees provided by national and international law, and that the procedure for allowing or refusing legal entry to Spain must be real and effective. The Court further held that law enforcement officials have to pay particular attention to vulnerable groups (i.e. children, pregnant women and elderly persons).

Following the decision, more than 80 NGOs asked the Government to “put an end to such practices, at least up until a legislative framework is adopted in line with the Constitutional Court’s requirements.[36]

Other pushback cases and incidents

Pushback practices in Spain have been strongly condemned in recent years. This includes a decision adopted on 12 February 2019 by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the case D.D. vs Spain.[37] The case concerned an unaccompanied minor originating from Mali who had been pushed back from Melilla to Morocco in December 2014, without being provided information on his rights and without being assisted by a lawyer or an interpreter. The Committee’s decision thus clearly reaffirmed the rights of unaccompanied minors at Europe’s borders and further condemned Spain for creating zones of exception at the border where basic rights are suspended.[38]

Moreover, the Provincial Court of Cádiz, which has its headquarters in Ceuta, has ordered the re-opening of the “El Tarajal” case,[39] which concerns 15 migrants who drowned in February 2014 after attempting to reach the Spanish enclave of Ceuta by sea and were repelled with rubber bullets and smoke grenades by officers from the Guardia Civil. The case was shelved in October 2015 after a court in Ceuta decided that the migrants, who departed from El Tarajal beach along with some 200 others and attempted to swim around the fence that separates Ceuta from Moroccan territory, “were not persons in danger in the sea” in the sense of the UN Convention on Safety of Life at Sea because “they assumed the risk of illegally entering Spanish territory by swimming at sea.” It ruled that responsibility for the deaths could not be allocated to any of the 16 Guardia Civil officers who were accused of murder and causing injury.

Since the event in El Tarajal, each year many NGOs, groups activists and other stakeholders join in Ceuta at the border, in order to commemorate the deaths and strive for justice. Amnesty International denounced again in 2021 the lack of accountability for what happened, as well as the lack of compensation to victims’ families, and the illegality of pushbacks.[40] The Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) also underlined that the Tarajal case testifies the racism of Spain’s migration system and enforcement.[41]

The Provincial Court of Cádiz (Audiencia Provincial de Cádiz), however, stated on 12 January 2017 that there are survivors who were never called as witnesses and that the forensic investigations undertaken on the dead bodies were “unnecessarily rushed”, although there is now no possibility of undertaking further examinations of the corpses. The court confirmed the lack of witness evidence and that the post-mortems carried out were inadequate. The court also ordered a collaboration with the judicial authorities in Morocco, from whom assistance had been sought three times in the past in vain. The decision comes in response to a complaint submitted by a Madrid lawyer working with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) against the closing of proceedings in October 2015. Nevertheless, the court struck out the case at the end of January 2018.[42]

After the case was removed from the register by the Provincial Court of Cádiz, at the end of August 2018 the Fourth Section of the same Court decided to reopen the case in order to allow two survivors living in Germany to testify.[43] In particular, the Court noted that no efforts had been made to carry out a proper and effective investigation, including allowing survivors to testify.

In September 2019, the judge of the Court of Ceuta charged 16 officers from the Guardia Civil with homicide and serious negligence resulting in death.[44] The State Attorney appealed the decision, claiming that the facts did not occur on Spain’s territory and that the individuals had been returned back to Morocco in good condition.[45] At the end of October 2019, however, the same judge of the Court of Ceuta upheld the appeal lodged by the Public Prosecutor and decided to remove the case from the register for the third time.[46] Despite evidence which suggests that the officers were guilty of homicide and serious negligence, and despite the fact that the families of the victims wanted to be heard, the judge decided to remove the case from the register on the basis of a lack of private prosecution (acusación particular).[47] In July 2020 the Provincial Court of Cádiz dismissed the appeal lodged by different NGOs against the removal of the case from the register. It concluded that there is no evidence indicating that the Guardia Civil’s officers acted in contradiction with applicable principles in the context of such operations.[48]

In 2020, pushback practices continued to be reported. At the beginning of January 2020, the Guardia Civil further pushed-back 42 persons (including 26 women and 2 children) to Morocco after arriving to the Spanish Chafarinas islands.[49] Almost 400 human rights NGOs signed a statement denouncing such illegal pushbacks.[50] Moreover, on 19 January 2020, the NGO ELIN reported the summary expulsion of two people who managed to cross the border between the Spanish enclave Ceuta and Morocco.[51] According to the NGO based in the Spanish enclave, the Moroccan authorities had blocked the attempt of over 300 people to climb the border fence a few hours earlier on that day. Witnesses reported that the Moroccan police brutally repressed the crossing and inflicted injuries on many persons that had to be brought to the hospital.[52]

In May 2020, eleven NGOs referred to the Public Prosecutor the case of a pushback of an unaccompanied child from Ceuta to Morocco. They asked for an independent investigation and recalled that this push back is a violation of Spanish Immigration law and the UN Convention on the rights of the Child.[53]

Later in 2020, a joint parliamentary question on a push back of a Sub-Saharan man to Morocco after he had jumped over the fence in Ceuta was referred to the Government by a member of the Parliament on behalf of the PSOE and Unidas Podemos parties. The Government refused to answer the question, arguing that the concept of push backs does not exist in Spanish and European law.[54]

In 2020, during a session at the Senate, the Spanish Ombudsman also denounced the abuse carried out by police authorities at borders and the collective expulsion being carried out in Ceuta and Melilla. In addition, the body referred to the difficulties faced by international protection seekers, in the case of Melilla, and the impossibility, in the case of Ceuta, to seek international protection regularly at the borders.[55]

In January 2021, around 100 NGOs reached out to political groups to oppose pushbacks and require from the Government to immediately stop such practices.[56]

Bilateral agreements with third countries

Spain has signed different bilateral agreements with third countries such as Mauritania, Alegria and Morocco, in order to swiftly return individuals back.

Since 2019, Mauritania has become the main country to receive deportation flights from Spain (chartered by Frontex), inter alia due to the increase of arrivals to the Canary Islands. This is based on a bilateral agreement signed back in 2003.[57] In January 2020, a total of 72 persons from Mali, out of which at least 14 were asylum seekers, have been returned to Mauritania in the framework of a bilateral agreement with Spain, as Mauritania accepts returned migrants who have transited through its territory.[58] One of the returned persons stated that they had not be been provided food during three days; that they had been abandoned at Mali’s border with Mauritania; and that they were subject to mistreatment by the Mauritanian authorities.[59] This case of return takes part as one of the seven flights that the Spanish Ministry of Interior has been carrying carried out since June 2019. As denounced by different organisations, these practices amount to indirect pushbacks, are in violation with the no-refoulement principle and are contrary to UNHCR’s call to not return Malians to their country of origin.[60]

In November 2020, Spain further resumed the expulsion of migrants which had been suspended following the Covid-19 spread. The authorities returned 22 migrants to Mauritania that had arrived to the Canary Islands.[61] Amnesty International denounced that the repatriations from the Canary Islands are carried out without guarantees. Migrants are not provided legal assistance and risk to be expelled without having the possibility to apply for international protection.[62]

In December 2020, Algeria joined Morocco and Mauritania as third countries accepting repatriations of migrants.[63] Algerian migrants were thus returned from Spanish CIEs,[64] and, during the same month, Spain increased the deportation of Moroccan migrants arriving to the Canary Islands.[65]

Following an agreement reached between Spain and Senegal, the Government announced in February 2021 that it was resuming deportation flights to Senegal by the end of the month.[66] The agreement also foresees the reinforcement of the Spanish monitoring mechanism in Senegal against irregular migration, through the allocation of a Guardia Civil’s patrol boat and an airplane.[67]

It should be further noted that a tender of €10 million has been addressed by the Government to airlines and aims to fund exclusively deportation flights.[68] Moreover, in 2020, the Minister of Interior announced that it was tripling financial support to African countries with the aim of stop irregular migration.[69] In November 2020 the Government also adopted a worrying plan which aims at providing third countries (e.g. Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco) with equipment such as vessels, helicopters and airplanes in order to stop migration and increase expulsions of rejected applicants for international protection.[70]

Arrivals by sea

In 2020, 40,106 persons and 2,124 boats arrived in Spanish shores by sea,[71] leading to another year of record numbers of arrivals since the “Crisis de los Cayucos” in 2006, when 38,000 people disembarked in the Canary Islands.[72]

Amnesty International called on the Government to provide more transparency on data regarding arrivals to the Spanish coasts, also underlining the importance of collecting information on their situation and on the number of persons in need of international protection. The organisation also called on the Autonomous Communities for more solidarity in providing reception conditions.[73]

Out of the total number of persons arriving by sea, more than a half (23,023 persons) disembarked on the Canary Islands, which became one of the main destination for boats since the last months of 2019, while 16,610 persons arrived on mainland and the Balearic Islands. Only a few migrants (473 persons) disembarked in Ceuta and Melilla.[74]

As regards the number of deaths in the Mediterranean, several figures have been reported. The NGO Camindando Fronteras (Walking Borders) estimated that 1,851 the persons died while reaching Spain through the Canary route in 2020.[75] It further reported that within the last week of October 2020, i.e. a period of 7 days, 480 persons died in the Atlantic Ocean while trying to reach the Canary Islands.[76]

Situation on the Canary Islands

As demonstrated by the figures above, the increase of boat arrivals to the Canary Islands has greatly continued throughout 2020. It is very likely that the Canary Island will continue to be the main point of entry to Spain for migrants and refugees throughout 2021, especially given the increased border controls at the Ceuta and Melilla border points and the increased capacity of Morocco to control the Northern part of the country, inter alia through EU funds.[77] UNHCR warned against the danger of the ‘Canary route’ and the risks of deaths as this deadly route continues to be used by migrants.[78] It has also stated that around the 40% of the persons arriving to the Canary Islands could be in need of international protection.[79] Nevertheless, while the focus has continuously been on the Canary Island throughout 2020, the so-called ‘Algerian route’ has also recorded an increase of activities towards the end of 2020. Thus, many migrants and refugees reached the Balearic Islands, Alicante and Murcia or were rescued in these areas.[80]

Serious concerns regarding the access to reception, overcrowding and poor living conditions on the Canary Islands are described in the Reception Chapter of this report (see Access and forms of reception conditions). As regards the access to the asylum procedure, several shortcomings have been reported in 2020, especially regarding the lack of legal assistance for migrants arriving by sea to the Canary Islands, resulting in important violations of their rights and the law.[81] In particular, migrants do not receive legal assistance within the 72 hours after their arrival as foreseen by the law and lawyers are agreeing to (i.e. signing) expulsion orders without having seen nor talked with their clients. Detainees that are held at the CIE have no access to the outside world and are not allowed to call their family to inform them about their expulsion.[82] Similarly, an important lack of adequate interpretation has been reported.

Many stakeholders have expressed concerns about the absence of legal rights for migrants arriving by sea to the Canary Islands. The NGO CEAR and the Sub-Commission of Foreigners and International Protection at the General Council of the Spanish Legal Profession (Subcomisión de Extranjería y Protección Internacional del Consejo General de la Abogacía) reported that migrants are not receiving legal assistance in the framework of the expulsion procedure, that they are not informed their rights and that collective expulsions are being carried out.[83] The President of the General Council of the Spanish Legal Profession pointed to the lack of proper coordination in the implementation of the law.[84]

In this context, UNHCR also called for an enhanced provision of legal assistance to migrants reaching the Canary Islands. In July 2020, it announced the future deployment of the Agency’s professionals at the Archipelagos, with the aim of supporting institutions and organisations in identifying international protections needs of newcomers, and subsequently refer them to the asylum procedure[85]. UNHCR’s activities on the Canary Islands thus started in January 2021.

During a hearing at the Senate in February 2021, different organisations (i.e. CEAR, IOM and the Red Cross) called for the territorial solidarity mechanisms allowing the relocation of migrants and asylum seekers between the Autonomous Communities, in order to avoid persons being stuck on the Canary Islands.[86]

Search and Rescue (SAR) operations

Since April 2015, the NGO CEAR, in coordination with other NGOs (including Accem), is running the campaign ‘UErfanos’ to denounce the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and the breaches to the right to asylum by the EU, which produce more ‘UEorphans’. The webpage of the campaign contains updated information on number of arrivals and deaths on the route to Europe and Spain.

Maritime Rescue (Salvamento Marítimo), an authority under the Ministry of Transport, is responsible for search and rescue carried out in the search and rescue zone belonging to Spain and Morocco.[87] The Police (Guardia Civil) usually participates along with the personnel of Maritime Rescue in Almería, but not in Algeciras. The Spanish Red Cross (Cruz Roja Española) is always informed of arrivals by the Maritime Rescue. The Spanish Red Cross notifies its Emergency Immediate Response Teams (Equipos de Respuesta Inmediata en Emergencia, ERIE) that operate in Almería, Motril, Málaga, Tarifa and Ceuta, where migrants are taken upon their arrival.

The ERIE is composed of Red Cross staff and volunteers who are usually medical personnel, nurses and some intercultural mediators. Their first action consists in a health assessment to check the state of health and detect medical needs and the preparation of a health card for each of the newly arrived persons, which contains their personal data. UNHCR also has a team of four people, two of whom are based in Málaga and also cover sea arrivals in Motril and Almería (the Alborán area) and two based in Algeciras and covering arrivals in Cádiz and Ceuta (the Gibraltar Strait area). The main objective of the presence of UNHCR in Andalucía is to work in the field of identification, referral and protection of people who need international protection.

After this health screening, the ERIE distributes food, water, dry clothes and a hygiene kit. Normally, men are separated from women in shelters. The Spanish Red Cross further provides humanitarian and health care at this stage. This process must be carried out within a period of 72 hours in accordance with the maximum term of preventive detention foreseen by the Spanish legal system.

Several worrying developments relevant to search and rescue operations have been noted in 2020. Since the beginning of 2019, the Spanish Government announced its intention to reduce irregular migration by 50%, following a record number of 64,298 persons entering the country in 2018.[88] To that end, it designed a plan aiming at avoiding active patrol by the Salvamento Marítimo in the Mediterranean coasts and at prohibiting to the rescue boats managed by NGOs from setting sail from Spanish shores. According to information released by Salvamento Maritimo, this has resulted in a stark reduction of its activities throughout 2019, especially as Moroccan authorities proceeded to rescue operations in Spanish territorial waters.[89]

The persecution of the Spanish activist Helena Maleno, founder of the NGO Caminando Fronteras, continued in 2020, when she was accused by Salvamento Marítimo of being responsible of the deaths of migrants.[90] This follows the charges held against her which were dropped in March 2019 by the Appeal Court of Tangier.[91] The activist had been accused of migrant smuggling and human trafficking because she had called on the Salvamento Marítimo to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean.

In January 2021, the Major of Barcelona announced that the Municipality will intervene as civil party in the criminal procedure in process in Palermo (Italy) against the former Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, for impeding the disembarkation of the Open Arms boat in Italy. The Open Arms was carrying 130 migrants and refugees during the summer of 2019.[92]

It should be further noted that, in February 2019, the Spanish Ombudsman addressed a recommendation to the Ministry of Interior, asking to modify the instructions related to irregular immigrants as they affect possible asylum seekers found in vessels navigating in Spanish territorial waters.[93] In particular, the Ombudsman considers that these instructions should provide for the obligation of the competent Sub delegation of the Government to communicate in writing to the port authority the presence of asylum seekers on Spanish vessels. In addition, port authorities should not allow the departure of a vessel until the OAR takes a decision on the applications for international protection that have been lodged, as asylum seekers have the right to stay in the Spanish territory or sea as long as a decision is pending. The instructions should also explicitly foresee the obligation to deliver without delay copies of relevant documents to lawyers, in order to ensure that adequate legal assistance is provided to asylum seekers.

The role of Moroccan authorities in migration and border control

The Moroccan Government affirmed that during 2019 it hindered the arrival of 70,000 migrants to Spain thanks to the deployment of its security forces.[94] The NGO APDHA (Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía) further stated that the reduction by half of the number of arrivals during 2019 is mainly due to the position taken by the Spanish authorities, which includes committing serious human rights violations through its polices forces, allowing repression from Moroccan authorities and enabling the deployment of FRONTEX in the Mediterranean Sea.[95] Moreover, in December 2019, Morocco redefined its maritime borders with Mauritania and Spain, by incorporating to its waters those of the Western Sahara.[96] When Morocco took this decision, Spain was still without the new Government formed. In January 2020, the new appointed Ministry of External Affairs declared that Spain would not accept any unilateral modification made to maritime borders without reaching a common agreement, which must further respect of international law. It seems that Morocco has confirmed its intention to reach a mutual agreement on the matter. In November 2020 the Moroccan King engaged with Spain in order to clarify the maritime border between the two countries.[97]

In 2020, Morocco further reinforced its controls to prevent migrants from entering Spain,[98] and the two countries strengthened their alliance during the pandemic in the field of migration control.[99] According to the NGO APDHA, the decrease of arrivals in 2020 at the Southern Border (Frontera Sur) results from the subcontracting of violence in Morocco.[100] This being said, some tensions between Spain and Morocco were also reported during 2020 because of the situation in Ceuta and Melilla.[101]

During the summer 2020, the joint operation ‘JO Minerva 20’, coordinated by FRONTEX and led by the Spanish National Police was put in place in the ports of Ceuta, Algeciras and Tarifa (that overlook the Gibraltar Strait) with the aim to manage migration in that area.[102]

In August 2020, several organisations lodged an appeal in front of the Spanish High Court (Tribunal Supremo), with the purpose of challenging the allocation of €32 million to Morocco in July 2019 for stopping irregular migration.[103] The judge had to decide whether it was legal to finance this operation through the Contingency Fund of the general State budgets. At the end of the year, the High Court declared the appeal inadmissible, due to the lack of legitimacy of the claimants.[104]

In January 2021, the Council for Transparency and Good Governance (Consejo de Transparencia y Buen Gobierno) backed up a decision of the Minister of Interior to not disclose information on the financial support provided to Morocco for the purpose of fighting irregular migration, as it would damage public security and the external relations of Spain.[105].

In November 2020, the Spanish Government announced that it would provide the Moroccan Ministry of Interior with 130 vehicles for the purpose of border and migration control.[106] The tender amounts to €7,150,000 without VAT and the contract will last 12 months. This tender is part of the programme named “Support to the integrated management of borders and migration in Morocco” that started on 17 April 2019 and will finish on 17 April 2022. Overall, it seems that the contract involves a total of €91 million.[107]

The closure of the Moroccan borders, along with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish migration policy in the Mediterranean,[108] are probably the main reasons why the route to the Canary Islands experienced a notable increase in boat arrivals since the end of 2019 and throughout 2020, despite the high risks to life involved. In November 2020, the Spanish Government further announced a joint mission with Frontex aimed at limiting arrivals and closing the ‘Canary migratory route’.[109]

Denial of asylum following disembarkation from the Aquarius vessel

In September 2019, the CIAR started to deny asylum to some of the persons rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the vessel Aquarius in 2018, who were disembarked in Valencia, following the policy of closed ports adopted by the then Italian Minister of Interior. Similarly, persons disembarked in Barcelona from the Open Arms’ vessel were denied asylum and the right to reception conditions, thus raising heavy criticism from experts.[110] By March 2020, the trend seemed to be confirmed, as 94% of asylum applications lodged by individuals who arrived with the Aquarius were denied, meaning that just 4 out of 62 cases decided by the CIAR so far have received international protection.[111] These negative decisions continued to be issued throughout the year 2020.[112]

On the 2020 World Refugee Day, the association Aquarius Survivors 2018 (Asociación Aquarius Supervivientes 2018) assembled in Valencia in order to ask the government to regularise all the asylum applicants and undocumented migrants who arrived with the Aquarius,[113] considering that only 66 asylum applications out of 374 had been processed so far.[114] The instrumental political use of the Aquarius affaire was also denounced.[115] As of November 2020, the Spanish government had granted international protection to only 9 persons out of 374 who applied for asylum, while 49 of them were denied any form of protection and 300 of them are still waiting an answer on their application after 2 years and a half.[116]

Police stations, CATE and CAED

All adults arriving to mainland by boat are placed in Detention for up to 72 hours in police facilities for identification and processing. This is also the case of families and women travelling with children, while children who arrive unaccompanied are usually taken to the competent protection centre.[117]

All persons rescued at sea are issued an expulsion order. If the person who irregularly entered Spain and received an expulsion order lodges an application for international protection, the expulsion order is suspended during the asylum procedure and resumes only in case of rejection of the application. If the person does not apply for international protection, but the order cannot be executed within a period of 72 hours, migrants are transferred to detention in a Foreigners Detention Centre (CIE) in order to proceed with the expulsion. The majority of migrants who are sent there are eventually not removed from the country,[118] as Spain does not have bilateral agreements with the relevant countries of origin. Once the maximum 60-day Duration of Detention in CIE has expired, the person is released with a pending expulsion order.

Shortcomings concerning access to legal assistance for persons arriving by sea have been reported in recent years. This includes contacting lawyers only following the notification of the expulsion order rather than at the moment of arrival of migrants in Spain. Lawyers meet with clients once they are in the CIE, but these interviews are in most cases collective and are conducted in the presence of police officers. In Motril, Tarifa and Almería the expulsion procedure is very similar and includes collective interviews and collective hearings in court, in addition to collective detention orders.

The situation had slightly improved in 2018, with some Bar Associations adopting specific protocols/guidelines providing guidance to lawyers on how to assist migrants arriving by sea. These include Cádiz,[119] Almería,[120] and Málaga.[121]

In October 2019, the Federation Andalucía Acoge published guidelines on how to provide counselling upon arrival. These are addressed to legal professionals and any other professional dealing with newly arrived persons in Spain, focusing inter alia on conditions of vulnerabilities (i.e. applicants of international protection, trafficked persons etc.).[122]

In addition, in order to respond to the increasing number of arrivals, during 2018 the Spanish Government put in place resources in order to manage arrivals and to carry out the identification of persons’ vulnerabilities in the first days of arrival. Specific facilities for emergency and referral have been created: these are referred to as Centres for the Temporary Assistance of Foreigners (Centros de Atención Temporal de Extranjeros, CATE) and Centres for Emergency Assistance and Referral (Centros de Atención de Emergencia y Derivación, CAED).[123]

  • CATE are managed by the National Police and are aimed at facilitating the identification of persons by the police, i.e. recording of personal data, fingerprinting etc. In practice these are closed centres which function as police stations and all newly arrived persons must pass through CATE. The maximum duration of stay in CATE is 72 hours.

As of the end of 2020, there were four CATE: San Roque-Algeciras in Cádiz, Almería, and Motril in Granada.[124] In addition, a new CATE has been opened in Málaga at the end of July 2019. CATE are usually large facilities; the one in San Roque has a capacity of about 600 places, for example. The one in Málaga has a capacity for 300 persons, with a space of 2.3 m² per person, which is considered to be a 42.5% less than what is foreseen by the law for those detained in police station’s prisons. Concerns relating to the conditions of detention, i.e. overcrowding and violation of the right to free movement, have been raised in vain.[125]The construction of a new CATE in Cartagena has been announced and was underway at the time of writing of this report.[126] The Government further announced the construction of two additional CATEs in 2021, namely in Motril (Granada) and Las Palmas on the Canary Islands.[127]

  • CAED are open centres managed by NGOs, i.e. the Spanish Red Cross and CEAR, under the coordination of the Directorate-General for Inclusion and Humanitarian Assistance (Dirección General de Inclusión y Atención Humanitaria, DGIAH) Ministry of Inclusion , Social Security and Migration, and are usually large centres where certain assistance services are provided, including information, social and legal assistance.[128] For example, the CAED in Chiclana de la Frontera, Cádiz is managed by the Spanish Red Cross and has capacity for 600-700 persons. Its aim is to establish the status of each newly arrived migrant and to facilitate them the possibility of contacting family members and friends across Spain and the EU.[129]

As of February 2020, there was a total of seven CAED:  five CAED managed by the Spanish Red Cross (Chiclana, Guadix, Málaga, Almería and Mérida) and one by CEAR in Sevilla. The CAED in Almería has opened at the end of July 2019 and the CAED in Málaga in August 2019.[130] As far as the author is aware, the Government has not adopted (or at least not published) any legal instrument defining and regulating these two new types of centres created to manage sea arrivals.[131] The same is stated also by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture in its 2019 annual report, which underlines that such facilities are considered as an “extension” of the National Police stations from which they depend on. Thus they are subject to the same regime as police stations.[132]

As of February 2020, the total capacity of the CAED’s was 1,476 places, divided as follows:

Capacity of Centres for Emergency Assistance and Referral (CAED)
Location Managing NGO Capacity
CAED Campano Chiclana de la Frontra-Cádiz Red cross 500
CAED Málaga Red Cross 230
CAED Sevilla CEAR 200
CAED Almería Red Cross 200
CAED Mérida-Badajoz Red Cross 194
CAED Guadix-Granada Red Cross 100
CAED Armilal-Granada Red Cross 52



Source: Accem.

Updated statistics on CAED’s in 2020 were not available at the time of writing of this report. The inadequacy both of CATE and CAED has been highlighted, as there are some places of arrival where conditions have been considered unacceptable.[133] The Police Trade Union (Sindicato Unificado de Policía) for example denounced the lack of appropriate health conditions of the facilities of the CATE of San Roque, including cases of scabies, as well as the lack of sufficient resources, health staff and of interpreters during arrivals at night.[134]

During 2019 the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture visited five CATEs. In response to the recommendations made by the same body in the previous year to the CATE of San Roque (Cádiz), a general improvement of the infrastructure, namely of the area of administrative management, has been noted[135]. Other improvements include the creation of new rooms reserved for interviews between detainees and lawyers, the fact that nobody sleeps at the facility and that assistance by NGOs is assured on the day of arrival (i.e. the Red Cross carries out the initial triage).

As regards the provision of collective and inadequate legal assistance at CATEs, as identified by the Spanish Ombudsman in the previous year, several recommendations were addressed to the Bar Associations of Cádiz and Granada. It seems that the latter have started to implement these recommendations, but the Ombudsman will continue to monitor this issue.

Concerns about inadequate and collective interviews have been also expressed by Amnesty International in a report on the identification of trafficked persons in Spain published in October 2020.[136] The report refers to the practice in place in Málaga, denouncing the lack of minimum standards in providing juridical and humanitarian assistance to migrants. It also reported the lack of separation between men and women during collective interviews, which were carried out in a small room at the port and without any proper space to guarantee confidentiality. In its report, Amnesty International Spain further denounces the general deficiencies of CATEs and the poor conditions of such facilities, as well as the lack of specialised and trained personnel on migration, asylum and trafficking in human beings. In line with the Spanish Ombudsman’s findings, the organisation denounces again that migrants and refugees arriving to Spain do not receive proper information on their rights, nor effective legal support, and that a proper access to the international protection procedure with adequate guarantees is not ensured.

Another concern expressed by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture relates to the discriminatory treatment of certain migrants based on nationality. In practice, if a person comes from a Sub-Saharan country or from Asia, he or she will be referred to and NGO within 72 hours, while Algerians or Moroccans are regularly sent to CIEs. Clarifications have been requested to the Directorate-General of the National Police on the matter. These concerns are also shared by the Association for Human Rights in Andalucía (APDHA – Asociación pro Derechos Humanos en Andalucía) in its 2020 annual report on the Southern border.[137]

APDHA also expresses concerns about the presence of unaccompanied migrant children within CATEs; the fact that they are detained in common cells with adults, as well as the lack of healthcare and legal assistance. It also reiterates the concerns about the loophole and lack of legal framework over these facilities, as well as the limited remedies in case of human rights violations. Save the Children has also reported that the new system of CATEs allows the detention of children and their families up to 72 hours at points of disembarkation in Spain.[138]

During 2020, human rights activists and organisations called for more guarantees for detainees held at the CATEs and called for their closure (i.e. along with the closure of any other detention-like facility). This call emerged as a result of the fact that 33 persons were held in poor detention conditions and were not released after 72 hours as foreseen in law.[139] Similarly, at the beginning of 2021, one of the 418 migrants and asylum seekers staying in a tent used as CATE in Barranco Seco (Canary Islands) reported to have been held for 16 days at the facility in extremely poor conditions; i.e. with no access to showers, bad  weather conditions and water leaks in the ceiling.[140] A child spent 8 days at this facility before being formally identify as minor, facing the same deplorable conditions (i.e. no water, no electricity, rationing of food and water, etc.)[141].


[1]  European Commission, Migration statistics update: the impact of COVID-19, 29 January 2021, available at:

[2]  The discrepancy in statistics between the European Commission and the Ministry of Interoir is likely to be due to the fact that the latter updated and published its statistics at a later stage.

[3]  Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2020. Datos acumulados desde el 1 de enero al 31 de diciembre, available in Spanish at:

[4]  Europaress, España ha reasentado o reubicado a más de 3.900 refugiados en cinco años, 200 en 2020, según el Gobierno, 23 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[5] Info Migrants, ‘Pushbacks on Spain’s southern border’, 8 March 2018, available at: See also CEAR, Refugees and migrants in Spain: The invisible walls beyond the southern border, December 2017, available at:, 25. See also the pending case before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, Applications No 8675/15 and 8697/15. A case summary may be found in the European Database of Asylum Act (EDAL) at:

[6]  CEAR, Informe 2020: las personas refugiadas en España y Europa, June 2020, available at:, 74.

[7]  La Sexta, ‘Rescatan a una migrante de 17 años oculta en el salpicadero de un coche en Melilla’, 16 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[8] El Faro de Melilla, ‘Un total de 55 inmigrantes consiguen saltar la valla’, 6 April 2020, available in Spanish at:

[9] Europapress, ‘Muere en Melilla un menor no acompañado cuando intentaba alcanzar a nado un barco de pasajeros’, 27 August 2020, available at:

[10]  Público, ‘Menos concertinas y más altura: colectivos de Melilla y Ceuta denuncian que las nuevas vallas continúan vulnerando los derechos humanos’, 29 August 2020, available in Spanish at:

[11] El Faro de Melilla, Muere un migrante y tres guardias civiles heridos en el intento de salto de la valla por 300 personas, 20 August 2020, available in Spanish at:

[12] El Faro de Melilla, ‘La oficina de asilo de Beni Enzar tendrá dos plantas para ampliar sus dependencias’, 26 August 2020, available at:

[13] Ceuta al Día, ‘Interior renueva los módulos que albergan la oficina de asilo del Tarajal a la que apenas ha dado uso’, 26 August 2020, available at:

[14] Público, ‘El control migratorio en España: una oscura industria de más de 660 millones en cinco años’, 1 July 2020, available at:

[15]  EuropaPress, ‘Cuatro migrantes de origen magrebí saltan la valla de Melilla más próxima a Marruecos’, 3 September 2020, available at:

[16]  Caritas Europa, Friedrich Ebert, The impact of EU external migration policies on sustainable development: A review of the evidence from West, North and the Horn of Africa, 12 October 2020, available at:, 9.

[17] El Diario, ‘Así es la nueva valla de Melilla: 10 metros de altura, barrotes y un cilindro “antitrepado”, 14 October 2020, available in Spanish at:; El País, ‘Interior ultima la construcción de la nueva valla de Ceuta y Melilla’, 14 October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[18] El Mundo, ‘Un migrante marroquí supera por primera vez con una escalera los nuevos “peines invertidos” de la valla de Ceuta’, 6 December 2021, available in Spanish at:

[19]  Afrique La Libre, ‘Espagne-Maroc: 150 migrants tentent de passer la frontière à Melilla’, 19 January 2021, available in Spanish at at:

[20] Irídia, ‘Iridia, ‘Vulneraciones de derechos humanos en la Frontera Sur: Canarias y Melilla’, January 2021, available at:

[21] Organic Law 4/2015 of 30 March 2015 on the protection of citizen security.

[22] UNHCR Spain, ‘Enmienda a Ley de Extranjería vincula gestión fronteriza y respeto de obligaciones internacionales’, 13 March 2015, available in Spanish at: See also ECRE, ‘Spain: New law giving legal cover to pushbacks in Ceuta and Melilla threats the right to asylum – Op-Ed by Estrella Galán, CEAR’, 27 March 2015, available at:

[23] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Third party intervention in N.D. v. Spain and N.T. v. Spain, 9 November 2015, available at:

[24] ECtHR, N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, Application Nos 8675/15 and 8697/15, Judgment of 3 October 2017. 

[25]  Público, ‘La mentira de Zoido sobre las devoluciones en caliente y las solicitudes de asilo’, 10 October 2017, available in Spanish at:

[26] The AIRE Centre et al., Third party intervention in N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, 5 April 2018, available at:

[27] ECtHR, ‘Grand Chamber hearing in a case concerning the immediate return of a Malian and an Ivorian migrant who had attempted to enter Spain illegally’, 26 September 2018, available at:

[28] ECtHR, Grand Chamber, Case of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, Applications nos. 8675/15 and 8697/15’, 13 February 2020, available at:

[29] See EDAL summary at: For an analysis, see also Stavros Papageorgopoulos, N.D. and N.T. v. Spain: do hot returns require cold decision-making?, 28 February 2020, available at:

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32]  Atresmedia, ‘La Unión Progresista de Fiscales tilda de “brutal retroceso” el fallo del Tribunal Europeo que avala las devoluciones en caliente’, 15 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[33]  Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, ‘Nota de prensa Sentencia TEDH: Una sentencia dolorosa para demandantes y sociedad civil, pero que no legitima las devoluciones sumarias’, 14 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[34] CEAR, ‘Manifiesto por una Política Migratoria y de Asilo propia de una sociedad democrática avanzada’, 25 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[35]  Tribunal Constitucional, Recurso de incostitcuionalidad STC 2015-2896, 19 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; Tribunal Constitucional, NOTA INFORMATIVA Nº 108/2020. El Pleno del TC avala la constitucionalidad de la ley de protección de la seguridad ciudadada de 2015 salvo las grabaciones “no autorizadas” a la policía, 19 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[36] El Salto Diario, ‘El Constitucional desautoriza las devoluciones en caliente que realiza el Ministerio de Interior, 20 November 2020’, available in Spanish at:

[37]  Committee on the Rights of the Child, Views adopted by the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, concerning communication No. 4/2016 – CRC/C/80/D/4/2016, 12 February 2019, available at:

[38] European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Push-backs Rejected: D.D. v. Spain and the rights of minors at EU borders, 29 April 2019, available at:

[39] El Diario, ‘Las muertes de Ceuta’, available in Spanish at:

[40]  Amnesty International, ‘Siete años después continúa la impunidad en la tragedia del Tarajal’, 6 February 2021, available in Spanish at:

[41] Platform for the International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), ‘Tarajal and the legacy of racism in Spain’s migration system, 8 February 2021, available in Spanish at:

[42] CEAR, ‘El archivo del caso Tarajal, “un paso hacia la impunidad” según Coordinadora de Barrios y CEAR’, 27 January 2018, available in Spanish at:

[43] RTVE, ‘La Audiencia de Cádiz ordena reabrir el caso de las muertes de inmigrantes en el Tarajal, Ceuta’, 31 August 2018, available in Spanish at:; CEAR, ‘CEAR celebra la reapertura de la causa Tarajal ordenada por la Audiencia de Cádiz’, 31 August 2018, available in Spanish at:

[44] El Confidencial, La jueza manda al banquillo por homicidio imprudente a los guardias civiles del Tarajal, 24 September 2019, available in Spanish at:; CEAR, Las acusaciones a los 16 agentes del caso Tarajal son un paso decisivo para la justicia, 25 September 2019, available  in Spanish at:

[45] El Diario, Los argumentos del Gobierno para pedir la absolución de los agentes en el caso Tarajal chocan con los vídeos oficiales, 3 October 2019, available in Spanish at:

46]  El Diario, La jueza de Ceuta usa la doctrina Botín para archivar el caso Tarajal tras procesar hace un mes a 16 agentes, 30 October 2019, available in Spanish at: It should be noted that the so-called “Botin doctrine” (Doctrina Botín) foresees that, if the public prosecutor and the private prosecution (acusación particular) do not accuse a person, the latter cannot be judged, even if the popular prosecution (acusación popular) accuses that person.

[47] This is in accordance with the so-called “Botin doctrine” (Doctrina Botín) which foresees that, if the public prosecutor and the private prosecution (acusación particular) decide to drop the case i.e not to accuse a certain person, the latter cannot be judged, regardless of whether the popular prosecution (acusación popular) is requesting a prosecution.

[48]  El Diario, La Justicia archiva la causa de la muerte de 14 personas en la frontera de Ceuta, 28 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[49] Cadena Ser, ‘La Guardia Civil expulsa “en caliente” a Marruecos a las 42 personas que habían llegado esta madrugada a las Islas Chafarinas’, 3 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[50] Entrepueblos, ‘Comunicado sobre la devolución en caliente en Chafarinas’, 3 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[51] El Foro de Ceuta, ‘Elin advierte que es injustificable la devolución en caliente a Marruecos, “país que vulnera los derechos humanos”’, 19 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[52] ECRE, ‘Spain: Two Persons Pushed Back to Morocco after 300 attempts to Cross Border Fence in Ceuta’, 23 January 2 020, available at:  

[53] Público, Once ONG denuncian ante la Fiscalía la devolución “en caliente” de un menor migrante en Ceuta, 26 May 2020, available at:; Público, Denuncian la devolución en caliente de un menor migrante encaramado a la valla de Ceuta, 22 May 2020, available at:

[54]  El Faro de Ceuta, Las devoluciones en caliente en Ceuta que no reconoce el Gobierno, 16 July 2020, available at:

[55] Diario de sesiones del Senado – Pleno, Informe correspondiente a la gestión realizada por el Defensor del Pueblo durante el año 2019, 1 July 2020, available at:

[56]  Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, ‘Un centenar de organizaciones reclaman a los grupos políticos contrarios a las devoluciones en caliente que exijan al Gobierno su cese inmediato’, 19 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[57] El País, ‘Mauritania recibe un tercio de los vuelos de expulsión de inmigrantes desde España’, 1 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[58]  El Diario, ‘Devoluciones exprés de Canarias a Mauritania: Interior ha expulsado a malienses que declararon su intención de pedir asilo’, 31 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[59] El País, ‘Uno de los deportados por España a Mauritania: “Después de tres días sin comer, nos abandonaron en Malí”’, 7 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[60] Europapress, ‘SJM denuncia que España repatría a personas malienses a Mauritania, “devoluciones indirectas” a un país en conflicto’, 24 January 2020, available at:; La Provincia, ‘Las devoluciones indirectas de migrantes a Mali contravienen directrices de la ONU’, 3 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[61] El País, ‘Interior expulsa a Mauritania a 22 inmigrantes llegados a Canarias’, 10 November 2020, available at:; El Salto Diario, ‘España retoma los vuelos de deportación hacia Mauritania’, 5 November 2020′, available at:

[62] Radio Televisión Canaria, ‘Amnistía Internacional denuncia devoluciones de migrantes desde Canarias sin garantías’, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[63] Cope, ‘Argelia se suma a Marruecos y Mauritania y ya empieza a aceptar inmigrantes retornados desde España’, 2 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[64]  Público, ‘Interior retoma las deportaciones de migrantes argelinos desde los CIE’, 2 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[65]  El País, ‘Interior incrementa la deportación de los marroquíes llegados a Canarias’, 7 December 2020, available in Spanish at:; El Español, ‘Rabat acepta la devolución de migrantes de Canarias en la negociación con la UE para lograr más visados’, 3 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[66]  Público, ‘España retomará los vuelos de deportaciones de migrantes a Senegal’, 5 February 2021, available at:

[67]  El País, ‘La ministra de Exteriores cierra en Senegal un acuerdo para reactivar las repatriaciones’, 22 November 2020, available at:

[68] Voz Populi, ‘El Gobierno pagará hasta diez millones a las aerolíneas por devolver inmigrantes a sus países de origen’, 31 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[69] El País, ‘Interior triplica las subvenciones a países africanos para contener la inmigración irregular’, 29 June 2020, available in Spanish at:

[70] El Diario, ‘El Gobierno activa un plan para “evitar la salida de pateras” a Canarias que incluye el envío de más aviones y buques a los países de tránsito,’ 13 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; El Día, ‘Repatriaciones y más vigilancia, el plan del Estado ante la inmigración, 14 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; Canarias7, ‘El Gobierno deportará a inmigrantes sin protección internacional y no los derivará a la península’, 13 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[71] Ministry of Interior, ‘Immigración Irregular 2020. Datos acumulados del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembreavailable in Spanish at:

[72] La SER, ‘2017, el año del record histórico de pateras a la Península Ibérica’, 5 January 2018, available in Spanish at:

[73]  La vanguardia, ‘Amnistía pide al Gobierno transparencia sobre la situación de los migrantes’, 9 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[74]  Ministry of Interior, ‘Immigración Irregular 2020. Datos acumulados del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembreavailable in Spanish at:

[75]   Efe, ‘La Ruta Canaria se cobró 1.851 vidas en 2020, según Caminando Fronteras’, 29 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[76] La Vanguardia, ‘Denunciadas 480 muertes en una semana de migrantes que trataban de alcanzar Canarias’, 12 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[77] Chiara Zanelli, Melting Pot, Perché la rotta Atlantica nel corso del 2020 si è “riaperta”?, 26 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[78] Efe, ‘ACNUR avisa de que la Ruta Canaria “se perfila como la más mortífera” y la están tomando refugiados’, 6 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[79] El Día, ‘Acnur calcula que cerca de la mitad de los migrantes necesitan asilo’, 20 February 2021, available in Spanish at:

[80] Público, ‘La ruta argelina de las pateras se reactiva a la sombra del desborde en Canarias’, 4 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[81]Cadena Ser, ‘La mayoría de los inmigrantes que llegan a Canarias en las últimas semanas no reciben asistencia jurídica’, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[82] Radio Televisión Canaria – RTVC, ‘”En los CIE se vulneran derechos; ni se permite una llamada para avisar que regresas”’, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[83]  Abogacía Española, Consejo General, ‘La Subcomisión de Extranjería denuncia la falta de asistencia jurídica a inmigrantes llegados a Canarias’, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; CEAR, CEAR lamenta la “clara indefensión jurídica” de las personas migrantes que llegan a Canarias, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[84] Abogacía Española, Consejo General, La asistencia jurídica a migrantes y su protección como personas especialmente vulnerables, esencial en un estado de Derecho, 24 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[85]El Día, ‘Acnur pide reforzar la asistencia jurídica a los migrantes que llegan al Archipiélago’, 17 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[86] La Vanguardia, ‘ONG piden facilitar reubicación de migrantes entre comunidades y en la UE, 9 February 2021, available in Spanish at:

[87] CEAR, ‘Refugiados y migrantes en España: Los muros invisibles tras la frontera sur’, December 2017, 8.

[88] El País, ‘El Gobierno traza un plan para reducir un 50% la migración irregular’, 30 January 2019, available in Spanish at:

[89] El País, ‘El acuerdo con Rabat reduce al mínimo los rescates de Salvamento Marítimo en aguas marroquíes’, 10 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[90] Contrainformacion, Helena Maleno, acusada de las muertes de personas migrantes por alertar de una patera en peligro, 2 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[91] El Diario, ‘Marruecos archiva la causa contra la activista española Helena Maleno por sus llamadas a Salvamento Marítimo’, 11 March 2019, available in Spanish at:

[92] Europapress, Barcelona se personará en el juicio en Italia contra Salvini por el bloqueo del Open Arms, 27 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[93] Defensor del Pueblo,’El Defensor del Pueblo recomienda al Ministerio del Interior modificar las instrucciones sobre polizones extranjeros para proteger a posibles solicitantes de asilo’, 28 February 2019, available in Spanish at:

[94] El País, ‘Rabat dice que evitó la llegada de 70,000 migrantes en 2019,’ 4 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[95]  Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía – APDHA, ‘APDHA alerta de que el descenso a la mitad de la migración es a costa de vulnerar los derechos humanos’, 3 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[96] Atalayar, ‘Marruecos redefine su frontera marítima con Mauritania y España e incorpora a sus aguas el mar del Sáhara Occidental’, 20 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[97] 20minutos, ‘El rey de Marruecos se compromete a “dialogar” con España para aclarar la frontera marítima de los dos países’, 7 November 2020, available at:

[98]  El Español, ‘Marruecos cierra el paso de migrantes al sur de España: así es la nueva y peligrosa ruta a Canarias’, 16 August 2020, available in Spanish at:

[99] Atalayea, ‘España y Marruecos refuerzan su alianza estratégica en tiempos de pandemia’, 16 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[100] Asociación Pro derechos Humanos de Andalucía – ADPHA, Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur, june 2020, available in Spanish at:

[101] Atalayar, ‘Marruecos y España: causas de las recientes fricciones’, 28 December 2020, available in Spanish at:; Atalayar, ‘La embajadora de Marruecos rebaja la tensión y asegura a España que no varía la postura sobre Ceuta y Melilla’, 23 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[102] COPE, La Operación Minerva’20, coordinada por Policía Nacional y Frontex, comienza para hacer frente a los retos migratorios, 18 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[103] El País, El Supremo decidirá la legalidad de 30 millones entregados a Marruecos para frenar la inmigración irregular, 20 July 2020, available in Spanish at:; ECSaharaui, El Gobierno de Pedro Sánchez regala a Marruecos otros 32 millones de euros, 24 August 2019, available in Spanish at:; Europapress, El Gobierno aporta 32,3 millones al despliegue marroquí contra la inmigración irregular, 23 August 2019, available in Spanish at:

[104] Noticias Jurídicas, El TS rechaza los recursos de dos ongs contra el acuerdo del Gobierno de aplicar 30 millones a financiar la lucha contra la inmigración ilegal, 8 January 2021, available at:

[105] El Confidencial Digital, ‘Interior recibe el aval para no informar sobre las ayudas a Marruecos contra la inmigración irregular’, 22 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[106]El Faro de Melilla, España entregará 130 vehículos a Marruecos para el control fronterizo y de inmigración, 11 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[107] ECSaharaui, ‘El Gobierno de Pedro Sánchez regala a Marruecos otros 31 millones de euros en vehículos 4×4’, 5 May 2020, available in Spanish at:

[108] ECSaharaui, ‘Covid-19 cambia la ruta de la inmigración ilegal procedente de Marruecos; del estrecho de Gibraltar a Gran Canarias’, 19 July 2020, available in Spanish at:

[109]El País, España y Frontex negocian una operación para cerrar la ruta migratoria canaria, 7 November 2020, available at:

[110] El País, ‘El Gobierno deniega el asilo a rescatados por el ‘Aquarius’’, 28 September 2020, available in Spanish at:

[111] El País, ‘España deniega el 94% de las solicitudes de asilo del ‘Aquarius’’, 13 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[112]  La Vanguardia, ‘Siete denegaciones de asilo a refugiados del ‘Open Arms’’, 27 October 2020, available at:

[113] La Vanguardia, ‘Los supervivientes del Aquarius se movilizan para exigir su regularización: “Nadie nace para ser refugiado”, 20 June 2020, available in Spanish at:

[114] La Vanguardia, Solo se han tramitado 66 de 374 solicitudes de protección internacional de los migrantes del Aquarius, 17 June 2020, available in Spanish at:

[115] El Periodico de Aquí, Los migrantes del Aquarius se sienten “olvidados” dos años después y ”utilizados políticamente”, 16 June 2020, available in Spanish at:

[116] Las Provincias, El Gobierno se olvida del Aquarius, 15 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[117] Ibid, 10.

[118] El País, ‘España expulsa 30 inmigrantes por día desde 2013’, 7 January 2019, available in Spanish at:

[119] Diario de Cádiz, ‘El Colegio de Abogados trata la asistencia letrada a extranjeros’, 6 July 2018, available in Spanish at:

[120] Diario de Almería, ‘Abogados editan una guía para las llegadas masivas de inmigrantes’, 7 July 2018, available in Spanish at:

[121] Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Málaga – Subcomisión de Extranjería, Guía para la asistencia letrada en las llegadas marítimas de extranjeros/as, available in Spanish at:

[122]Andalucía Acoge, Derechos Humanos en la frontera. Guía práctica de asesoramiento en llegadas, October 2019, available in Spanish at:

[123]   Europapress, ‘Un total de 22.082 personas han sido atendidas a pie de playa en lo que va de 2018, casi la cifra total de 2017’, 30 July 2018, available in Spanish at:; El Periódico, ‘La inusual llegada de pateras a Málaga obliga a buscar soluciones de emergencia’, 13 November 2018, available in Spanish at:

[124]Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA), Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2019, February 2019, available in Spanish at:, 30.

[125] El Diario, ‘El nuevo centro de migrantes del puerto de Málaga dedica 2,3 m² por persona, la mitad que un calabozo para detenidos’, 28 July 2019, available in Spanish at:

[126] Europapress, ‘El PP marca en sus enmiendas como prioritaria la construcción del CATE en Cartagena’, 23 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA), Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur, May 2020, available at:

[127] Ocio Latino, ‘El Gobierno instalará en 2021 reconocimiento facial en sus fronteras y reformas en los CIES’, 31 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[128] Europapress, ‘El centro para la acogida temporal de migrantes en Mérida atiende a 196 personas en su primera semana en servicio’, 3 August 2018, available in Spanish at:

[129]  APDHA, Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2019, February 2019, 36-37.

[130] Diario16, Inaugurado el nuevo Centro de Acogida de Emergencia y Derivación de Málaga, 28 August 2019, available in Spanish at:; 20minutos, Abre en la capital el Centro de Acogida de Emergencia y Derivación con capacidad para 200 migrantes, 26 July 2019, available in Spanish at:

[131] APDHA, Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2019, 29.

[132]  Defensor del Pueblo, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura. Informe anual 2019, 20 October 2020, available at:, 64.

[133]  CEAR, ‘2018, el año que España se convirtió en la principal entrada por mar a Europa’, 27 December 2018, available in Spanish at:

[134] Europapress, ‘SUP lamenta “casos de sarna” en el Centro de Atención Temporal de Extranjeros de San Roque’, 5 September 2018, available in Spanish at:

[135]  Defensor del Pueblo, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura. Informe anual 2019, 20 October 2020, available in Spanish at:     

[136] Amnistía Internacional España, Cadenas invisibles: identificación de víctimas de trata en España, October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[137] Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA), Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur, May 2020, available in Spanish at:

[138] Save the Children, La protección de la infancia migrante y refugiada en España y en Europa. Resumen ejecutivo y conclusiones sobre España, September 2020, available in Spanish at:

[139]  Cuarto Poder, Menos galletas y más garantías, 13 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[140] El Día, “Llevo ya 16 días encerrado aquí, sin ducharme, con muchísimo frío y goteras”. 13 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[141]  El Diario, ‘Un menor pasa ocho días en un campamento policial para migrantes sin agua corriente y con racionamiento de comida’, 18 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation