Access to the territory and push backs


Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 30/11/20


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.

Following the CODIV-19 outbreak in Spain and the Declaration of the state of alarm on 15 March 2020, arrivals drastically decreased. From the week of March 16 to March 22, only 93 persons entered Spain (70 persons by sea and 23 by land), compared to more than 350 persons the previous week.[1]     


Arrivals in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla


The number of persons arriving in Spain by land in 2019 was 6,345, a slight decrease compared to the number of arrivals in 2018 which amounted to 6,800.

Arrivals in Spain by land: 2019

Point of entry

Number of irregular arrivals





Total arrivals by land


Source:  Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2019, available in Spanish at


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,[2] and several hundred persons during 2019.

One of the ways used by migrants and asylum seekers to enter the territory is to attempt to climb border fences in groups. The increasing numbers of attempts to jump border fences occur due to the fact that migrants and asylum seekers, and mostly Sub-Saharan nationals, still face huge obstacles in accessing the asylum points at the Spanish border, due to the severe checks of the Moroccan police at the Moroccan side of the border. 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).

During 2019, several incidents and developments were reported at the border:

  • In May 2019, around 100 Sub-Saharan individuals tried to jump over the Melilla fence. 52 of them successfully entered the Spanish enclave, while 40 persons were detained by the Moroccan police.[3]
  • Similarly, at the end of August 2019, 155 individuals accessed Ceuta by jumping over the fence,[4] thus marking the most important jump over the fence since 2018.[5] Out of them, seven migrants were reportedly pushed back.[6]
  • In November 2019, a van carrying 52 migrants (34 men, 16 women and 2 young children) drove into Ceuta by forcing the border’s doors at “El Tarajal”.[7] Four individuals were injured and transferred to the local hospital.
  • During the same month, at least 81 persons reached the Spanish islands of Chafarinas by boat, which are located in the Alboran Sea off the coast of Morocco. According to information provided by the NGO Caminando Fronteras, this concerned 7 children and 74 women, out of which three were pregnant women and one was about to give birth. The bad weather conditions and the lack of food reportedly exacerbated the situation.[8]
  • In June 2019, the Moroccan Government finalised the construction of a new fence at the Ceuta border. The latter is composed of a double spiral of barbed steel wire, which has been considered as dangerous by the Spanish Government.[9] In mid-November 2019, however, the latter announced it would remove the barbed steel wire located on the Spanish parts of the fences of Ceuta and Melilla and replace them with less dangerous material.[10] Thus, these renovation works started in December 2019, with a total budget of €32 million dedicated both to the removal of the dangerous elements and the installation of a sophisticated new fence which includes four sections.[11] In addition, the Ministry of Interior informed during a session at the Congress in February 2020 that, within the framework of these renovations, the fences’ height will be increased by 30% and new physical barriers will be added in order to prevent migrants to climb.[12] A report published by the Centre for Studies on Peace J.M. Delàs (Centre Delàs D’Estudis per la Pau) on policies relating to fear and securitisation in Europe, which has often resulted in the establishment of fences, demonstrates that Spain is one of the most prominent countries resorting to such measures since the nineties, also in terms of technological investments.[13]   
  • In October 2019, the Provincial Court of Cádiz in Ceuta condemned 9 migrants to one year and a half of prison for organising the jump over the fence back in July 2018.[14] They have been charged with public disorder and considered responsible for causing slight injuries and damages. They further need to compensate the Spanish authorities for material damages; namely the payment of  €10,511 to the Spanish State for the damages caused to the fence and more than €4,000 to the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) for the damages caused to several objects (e.g. a car, uniforms, etc.).[15] This is the first time that migrants are accused and condemned by a Court for jumping over the fence. Moreover, it has been reported that an additional complaint accusing other migrants for jumping over the Ceuta fence at the end of August 2019 has been filed. 


The above incidents thus demonstrate that migrants and asylum seekers have to resort to dangerous ways to enter Ceuta and Melilla. Further incidents at the border are likely to continue in 2020. In January 2020 for example, 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.[16]

Moreover, problems of overcrowding at the CETI, where people are placed after having jumped over the fence, have been reported throughout 2019. This also includes a serious lack of interpreters to ensure proper communication between the newcomers and the authorities (see Conditions in CETI). It should be further noted that, for the first time, the Government applied the border procedure to asylum seekers who had jumped the fence (see section on Border procedure (border and transit zones).


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”,[17] includes a specific regulation within the Aliens Act concerning the “Special regime of Ceuta and Melilla”. This new regime consists of three elements:

  1. 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”;
  2. It declares that “these rejections will be realised respecting the international law on human rights and international protection ratified by Spain”;
  3. 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,[18] the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights,[19] 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. It refused entry to 203,025 persons in 2017 and 230,540 persons in 2018, mostly at the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla.[20]

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).[21]

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.[22] 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).[23] The Grand Chamber hearing was held on 26 September 2018.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]

This GC’s decision has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations and other several stakeholders, including the Progressist Union of Public Prosecutors,[29] who saw a lost opportunity in condemning the Spanish authorities for their pushback practices at the border.[30] 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.[31]

It remains unclear, however, if and how the decision of the ECtHR will influence the decision that the Spanish Constitutional Court is currently drafting in relation to pushback practices and the Citizen Security Act.[32] Civil society organisations are hoping that this Court will finally declare these pushbacks unconstitutional.  According to information available at the time of writing, the rapporteur of the Court confirmed that his report and the criteria used for the assessment of the situation have not changed following the GC’s decision.[33]


Other pushback cases and incidents


Pushback practices in Spain have further been strongly condemned through a recent decision adopted by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the case D.D. vs Spain of 12 February 2019.[34] 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.[35]

Moreover, the Provincial Court of Cádiz, which has its headquarters in Ceuta, has ordered the re-opening of the “El Tarajal” case,[36] 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 given in 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.

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.[37]

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.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41] Despite the 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).[42]

At the beginning of January 2020, the Guardia Civil has pushed-back 42 persons (including 26 women and 2 children) to Morocco after arriving to the Spanish Chafarinas islands[43].  So far, almost 400 human rights NGOs signed a statement denouncing the illegal pushbacks.[44]. Moreover, on 19 January 2020, the NGO ELIN reported the summary expulsion by Spanish authorities of two people who managed to cross the border between the Spanish enclave Ceuta and Morocco.[45] According to the NGO based in the Spanish enclave, a few hours before the Moroccan authorities had blocked the attempt of over 300 people to climb the border fence. Witnesses reported that the Moroccan police brutally repressed the crossing and many people were brought to the hospital later.[46] Pushback practices are thus likely to continue throughout 2020, but a lot of organisations are hoping that the Constitutional Court will render a judgement condemning pushback practices.


Bilateral agreement between Spain and Mauritania


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.[47] 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.[48] 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.[49]


Arrivals by sea


In 2019, 1,192 boats and 26,168 persons arrived in Spanish shores by sea,[50] 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.[51] Sea arrivals were reduced by half in 2019 compared to 2018 where 57,498 persons had reached Spain by boat.[52] In 2018, Spain had recorded more sea arrivals than the past eight years combined.[53]

Almost 85% of migrants (21,958 persons) disembarked on mainland and the Balearic Islands, while 2,698 persons disembarked on the Canary Islands, which became a destination for boats coming from Africa starting from the last months of 2019. The rest (1,512 persons) disembarked in Ceuta and Melilla.[54]

As regards the number of deaths in the Mediterranean, several figures have been reported. At the beginning of December 2019, around 60 persons died while trying to reach the Canary Islands by boat from Mauritania,[55] and a shipwreck was found with additional deaths on the route to Spain.[56]  The NGO Camindando Fronteras (Walking Borders) further reported in December 2019 that 665 persons had died or disappeared during 2019.[57] The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) further stated that, out of the 994 individuals who lost their lives across the Mediterranean, 269 were trying to reach Spain.[58] Moreover, the Canary Islands experienced an important increase of boat arrivals in 2019 compared to 2018 (+22%).[59] The increase of boat arrivals at the Canary Islands is likely to continue throughout 2020.

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.[60] 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 2019. In January 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.[61] 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. The plan also foresees pressure on the Italian Government to open ports to boats close to its territory. According to information released by Salvamento Maritimo, this has resulted in a stark reduction of its activities throughout 2019, especially as Moroccan authorities are proceeding to rescue operations in Spanish territorial waters.[62]

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.[63] 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.[64]

It should be noted that, in July 2019, the Spanish Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros) agreed to buy cars and trucks for a total of €25 million to Morocco for the purpose of border control activities.[65] The purchase follows an agreement reached by Spain and Morocco in October 2018, whereby Moroccan authorities are granted a greater role in migration control while Spain has accepted to limit the intervention of its Maritime Rescue, Salvamento Marítimo, for the purpose of search and rescue operations.[66]

Similarly, in August 2019, the Spanish Council of Ministers allocated a total of €32 million to Morocco to enhance police cooperation in the fight against migrant smuggling.[67] The Spanish Government further issued a new order according to which the Maritime Rescue Salvamento Marítimo can rescue individuals only in Spanish waters. However, rescue operations in Moroccan waters are only allowed where the Moroccan authorities ask for support.[68]   

In August 2019, the Spanish authorities have thus prevented the rescue vessel of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms from setting sail from Barcelona and conducting search and rescue operations.[69] Similarly, in April 2019, a Basque fishing boat named Aita Mari which was heading to Greece to provide humanitarian support to asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos was prevented by the Spanish authorities from crossing the Mediterranean via the strait of Gibraltar.[70] It was held for a couple of days at the port of Palma de Mallorca, until the Governmental authorised the boat Aita Mari to sail to Greece.[71]

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, after 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.[72] By March 2020, the trend seemed to be confirmed, as 94% of asylum applications lodged by individuals who arrived though the Aquarius were denied, meaning that just 4 out of 62 cases decided by the CIAR so far have received international protection.[73]    

Another relevant development relates to the charges held against the Spanish activities Helena Maleno, founder of the NGO Caminando Fronteras, which were dropped in March 2019 by the Appeal Court of Tangier.[74] The activist had been accused of migrant smuggling and human trafficking because she had called on the Salvamento Maritmo to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean.

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.[75] 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. 

Moreover, in December 2019, Morocco redefined its maritime borders with Mauritania and Spain, by incorporating to its waters those of the Western Sahara.[76] 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.     

Police stations, CATE and CAED

All adults arriving to mainland Spain 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.[77]

All persons rescued at sea are issued an expulsion order. If the order cannot be executed within a period of 72 hours, they 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,[78] as Spain does not have bilateral agreements with all countries of origin. Once the maximum 60-day Duration of Detention in CIE has expired, the person is released with a pending expulsion order. During 2017, Moroccan nationals who were previously returned to Morocco within 72 hours have also been detained in CIE.[79]

In a 2017 report, CEAR highlighted shortcomings concerning access to legal assistance for persons arriving by sea. Usually the police contacts lawyers only for the notification of the expulsion order and not at the moment migrants arrive 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 procedure is very similar and includes collective interviews and collective hearings in court, in addition to collective detention orders. In Motril, the judge goes to the port with pre-approved detention orders without having heard the persons concerned.[80]

The situation seems to have 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,[81] Almería,[82] and Málaga.[83]

During a visit carried out in 2018 at the CATE in San Roque by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, the institution observed the practice of collective legal assistance to persons and with inadequate conditions. In order to guarantee an appropriate and effective legal support to migrants, the body sent recommendations to the Bar Associations of Cádiz and Granada.[84]    

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).[85]


  • 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.

    At the moment there are four CATE: San Roque-Algeciras in Cádiz, Almería, and Motril in Granada.[86] 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.[87]


  • 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.[88] 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.[89

At the time of writing, there was a total of seven CAED:  five CAED are 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.[90] 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.[91]

At the time of writing, the total capacity of the CAED’s was 1,476 places, divided as follows:

Capacity of Centres for Emergency Assistance and Referral (CAED)


Managing NGO


CAED Campano Chiclana de la Frontra-Cádiz

Red cross


CAED Málaga

Red Cross


CAED Sevilla



CAED Almería

Red Cross


CAED Mérida-Badajoz

Red Cross


CAED Guadix-Granada

Red Cross


CAED Armilal-Granada

Red Cross







Source: Accem.

The inadequacy both of CATE and CAED has been highlighted, as there are some places of arrival where conditions have been considered unacceptable.[92] 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.[93]

In its 2019 report on human rights at the Southern borders, the Association for Human Rights in Andalucía (APDHA – Asociación pro Derechos Humanos en Andalucía) calls for the transparency in the structure, management and functioning of CATE and CAED.[94]


[1]  El País, ‘Se desploman las solicitudes de asilo y las entradas irregulares’, 27 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[2] 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:

[3]  El Faro de Melilla, ‘Medio centenar de inmigrantes entra a Melilla saltando la valla’, 12 May 2019, available in Spanish at:    

[4] RTVE, ‘Más de 150 migrantes logran entrar en Ceuta en el primer salto masivo a su valla fronteriza del último año’, 30 August 2019, available in Spanish at:

[5]   El Mundo, ‘Un total de 155 migrantes entran en Ceuta cruzando su doble valla en la primera incursión en grupo en un año’, 30 August 2019, avaialable in Spanish at:

[6]  El País, ‘Devueltos ‘en caliente’ siete de los 153 migrantes que saltaron la valla de Ceuta’, 31 August 2019, available in Spanish at:  

[7]  Cadenaser, ‘Una furgoneta con medio centenar de inmigrantes irrumpe en España a través de la frontera de El Tarajal’, 18 November 2019, available in Spanish at:; El País, ‘Un traficante revienta la frontera de Ceuta con 52 migrantes hacinados en su furgoneta’, 18 November 2019, available in Spanish at:

[8] El Diario, ‘Al menos 81 personas llegan en patera a las Islas Chafarinas, entre ellas 7 menores’, 18 November 2019, available in Spanish at:

[9] El Diario, ‘Marruecos ultima una nueva valla en la frontera con Ceuta con las concertinas que el Gobierno español prometió retirar’, 5 June 2019, available in Spanish at:

[10]El País, ‘España empezará a retirar en menos de dos semanas las concertinas de la valla de Ceuta y Melilla’, 16 November 2019, available in Spanish at:

[11] El Foro de Ceuta, ‘Interior sustituirá las concertinas por una sofisticada valla con cuatro tramos’, 22 January, available at:

[12] El Diario, ‘El Gobierno aumentará la altura de las vallas de Ceuta y Melilla en un 30%’, 17 February 2020, available at:; El Diario, Lo que se sabe sobre las nuevas vallas de Ceuta y Melilla: más altas, sin gas pimienta ni cuchillas pero con otras "barreras", 19 February 2020, available at:

[13] Centre Delàs D’Estudis per la Pau, ‘Levantando muros. Políticas del miedo y securitización en la Unión Europea’, November 2018, available in Spanish at:

[14] Ceutatv, ‘Los inmigrantes del asalto de julio de 2018 tendrán que ingresar en prisión’, 30 October 2019, available in Spanish at:

[15] Público, Nueve migrantes son condenados a penas de un año y medio de prisión por organizar un salto a la valla de Ceuta, 15 October 2019, available in Spanish at:

[16] 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:

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

[18] 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:

[19] 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:

[20] Eurostat, migr_eirfs.

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

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

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

[24]  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:

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

[26]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:

[27]  Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] 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:

[30]  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:

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

[32] El País, ‘El ponente del Constitucional propone acabar con las devoluciones en caliente’, 31 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[33]Cadena Ser, ‘La ponencia del Constitucional que rechaza las devoluciones en caliente se mantiene pese al aval del TEDH’, 25 February 2020, available in Spanish at:

[34] 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:

[35] 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:

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

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

[38] 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:

[39] 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:

[40] 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:

[41] 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 can not be judged, event if the popular prosecution (acusación popular) accuses that person.

[42] 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.

[43] 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:

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

[45] 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:

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

[47] 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:

[48]  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:

[49] 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:

[50] Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2019, available in Spanis at:

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

[52] Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2019, available in Spanis at:

[53]  El Confidencial, ‘España recibe en 2018 a más migrantes en patera que en los últimos 8 años juntos’, 1 January 2019, available in Spanish at:

[54]  UNHCR, Spain – Sea and Land Arrivals, January-December 2018 Ministry of Interior, Inmigración irregular – Informe Quincenal – Datos acumulados del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembre de 2018, December 2018, available in Spanish at:

[55] Cadena Ser, ‘Mueren 57 migrantes tras hundirse su embarcación frente a Mauritania cuando se dirigía a Canaria’s, 4 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[56] Cadena Ser, ‘El naufragio con más cadáveres recuperados en las rutas hacia España’, 5 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[57] El Diario, ‘665 personas muertas y desaparecidas en su intento de llegar a España en patera durante 2019, según Caminando Fronteras’, 10 December 2019, available in Spanish at: It should be noted that the NGO Caminando Fronteras further published a report in June 2019 documenting human rights violations at the European Western Borders and higlithing that States are failing their obligation to comply with human rights standards. See: Caminando Fronteras, Vida en la necrofrontera, June 2019, available in Spanish at:

[58] Europapress, La llegada de migrantes en patera cae un 49,3% en los primeros nueve meses de 2019, 1 October 2019, available in Spanish at:

[59] Efe, ‘Salvamento localiza dos pateras a unas 60 millas al sur de Gran Canaria’, 18 December 2019, available in Spanish at:; El país, ‘Bañistas de una playa de Gran Canaria auxilian a 24 inmigrantes que desembarcaron en patera’, 30 November 2019, available in Spanish at:; El Diario, ‘Salvamento Marítimo rescata a 88 personas en tres pateras en aguas próximas a Gran Canaria’, 27 November 2019, available in Spanish at:

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

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

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

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

[64]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:

[65]  El Salto Diario, ‘El Consejo de Ministros aprueba comprarle a Marruecos coches para control fronterizo por 25 millones de euros’, 5 July 2019, available at:  

[66] La Moncloa, ‘España y Marruecos intensifican las relaciones bilaterales para consolidar un modelo conjunto de gestión de las migraciones’, September 2018, available at:

[67]  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:   

[68]Atalayar, Nueva estrategia del Gobierno: España deja de rescatar personas en aguas marroquíes, 5 August 2019, available in Spanish at:

[69] The Local, ‘Spain stops migrant rescue boat Open Arms from setting sa’il, 15 January 2019, available at:

[70] El País, ‘Rescue ship says Spain is blocking its bid to aid refugees in Greece’, 16 April 2019, available at:

[71]  El Diario, ‘El Gobierno recula y permite zarpar al barco Aita Mari para llevar ayuda humanitaria a Grecia, 16 April 2019’, available in Spanish at:

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

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

[74] 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:

[75]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:

[76] 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:

[77] Ibid, 10.

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

[79] CEAR, ‘Refugiados y migrantes en España: Los muros invisibles tras la frontera sur’, December 2017, 16.

[80] Ibid, 12-15.

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

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

[83] 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:

[84] Defensor del Pueblo – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura, ‘Informe Anual 2018- Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención’, September 2019, available in Spanish at:

[85] 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:

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

[87] 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:

[88] 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:

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

[90] 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:

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

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

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

[94]  APDHA, ‘Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2019’, January 2019, 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