The Asylum Regulation provides that the authorities responsible for the lodging of asylum claims on the territory are: the Office of Asylum and Refuge (OAR), any Aliens Office under the General Commissariat for Aliens and Borders (Comisaría General de Extranjería y Fronteras) of the Police, Detention Centre for Foreigners (CIE), Spanish Embassies and Consulates, or police station. In practice, “registration” and “lodging” of asylum applications entail different procedural steps.
Rules on making (presentación), registering and lodging (formalización)
Persons willing to seek international protection in Spain must make a formal application during their first month of stay in Spain. When this time limit is not respected, the law foresees the possibility to apply the urgent procedure, although in practice the competent authority will reject any asylum application that does not comply with the 1-month deadline when it considers that no valid justification exists for the delay.
The process begins with the presentation (“making”) of the application, which the applicant shall present in person or, if this is not possible, with representation by another person. For persons disembarking in ports, the intention to apply for international protection is registered by the police, usually following the intervention of NGOs.
Upon the registration of the intention to apply for asylum, the applicant receives a paper-form “certificate of intention to apply for asylum” (Manifestación de voluntad de presentar solicitud de protección internacional).
After registration has been completed, the applicant is given an appointment for the formalisation (“lodging”) of the application, which consists of an interview and the completion of a form, and shall be always be realised in the presence of a police official or an officer of the OAR. Upon the lodging of the application, the person receives a “receipt of application for international protection” (Resguardo de solicitud de protección internacional), also known as “white card” (tarjeta blanca). This document is later replaced by a “red card” (tarjeta roja), issued after the asylum application has been deemed admissible by the OAR.
According to the Asylum Act, all registered asylum applications are communicated to UNHCR, which will be able to gather information on the application, to participate in the applicant’s hearings and to submit reports to be included in the applicant’s record. UNHCR shall receive notification of an asylum application within a maximum period of 24 hours, which is applied in practice.
Obstacles to registration in practice
Due to the increase in asylum applications in Spain in recent years, which slowed down the functioning of the Spanish asylum system, applicants have to wait long periods of time before getting an appointment to be interviewed by the OAR. Since 2017 and up until the end of 2020, there have regularly been long queues of asylum seekers waiting to register their application for international protection at the Aluche police station in Madrid. This was further exacerbated during the COVID 19 pandemic, rendering it difficult to respect the distancing rules, as pointed out by the trade union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) in the 38 reports it issued in this regard.
In order to shed light on the situation, the Spanish Ombudsman opened an investigation looking into the measures taken by the General Commissariat for Aliens and Borders (Comisaría General de Extranjería y Fronteras) of the Police to avoid long queues. The investigation further assesses the conditions to which asylum seekers in Madrid are confronted to when lodging their application. In August 2020, the Ombudsman recommended that the Ministry of the Interior urgently adopts measures to facilitate access to the appointment system after receiving numerous complaints about the difficulties faced by persons in need of international protection to lodge their application for asylum. An answer from the Government was still pending at the time of writing of this report.
During the 2019 Refugee Day, the Spanish Ombudsman called for improvements in the coordination among the institutions competent on international protection, as the sharing of competences between the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration requires urgent action. The same call was reiterated by the Ombudsman in its 2019 Annual Report published in 2020. In addition, the Spanish Ombudsman reiterates its concerns, already expressed in 2018, about the complaints received on the difficulties in accessing both the asylum procedure and reception conditions. If during 2018 they mainly concerned Madrid, the institution notices that during 2019 the difficulties in accessing the asylum procedures were reported also in other provinces. This forced many asylum seekers to spend the night on the street while queueing for the appointment.
In December 2020, following a claim lodged by the Jesuit Migrant Service, the Spanish Ombudsman urged again the Police to stop subjecting asylum seekers to requirements not foreseen in law, such as providing certain documents (i.e. certificate of registration of residence) in order to access the asylum procedure.
In 2019, the average waiting time for an appointment was 6 months, even though delays vary depending on the province. In certain provinces, waiting times could range from 8 months to more than 1 year in practice. Detailed statistics on the average waiting time per province is not available, but practice in 2020 suggests that they can vary from one month to another, or even one week to another, depending on the workload for asylum interviewers have. During the State of Alarm (March-May 2020), the waiting time slightly decreased in some provinces in light of the decrease of the number of applications lodged during that year due to COVID-19. In any case, in order to reduce timeframes, the administration is increasing the personnel in charge of registering asylum applications at police stations. While acknowledging the improvements made so far in its Annual Report on 2019, published in 2020, the Spanish Ombudsman calls for more efforts by the National Police in addressing the management of international protection applications, in particular in relation to the appointments for interviews and the issuing of documents.
Access to the procedure in Ceuta and Melilla
Beyond the mainland, most shortcomings concerning the registration of asylum claims in Spain relate to the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, due to the difficulties in the Access to the Territory. In order to facilitate access to asylum at land borders, the Ministry of Interior has established asylum offices at the borders’ crossing points in Ceuta and Melilla since November 2014. Similarly, since mid-2014 UNHCR has guaranteed its presence as well.
In its 2019 Annual Report, the Spanish Ombudsman acknowledges the efforts started in 2020 to guarantee access to proper interpretation services and legal assistance; as important shortcomings had been noticed in this regard in previous years at the Melilla’s border post of Beni Enzar.
Since its establishment, the border checkpoint in Melilla has quickly become one of the main registration points for asylum applications in Spain, receiving up to 4,267 applications in 2019, compared to 3,475 in 2018, 2,572 in 2017, 2,209 in 2016 and 6,000 asylum claims in 2015.  Conversely, there has been virtually no asylum claim made at the Ceuta border point. This is mainly due to the impossibility faced by migrants and asylum seekers to exit the Moroccan border due to the severe checks performed by Moroccan police, as mentioned in Access to the territory and push backs. This issue also affects Melilla but mainly impacts on the nationalities that can access the Spanish border rather than on the number of asylum claims overall. In fact, most of persons on the Moroccan side are stopped following racial profiling, meaning that nationalities such as Syrians cross the border more easily than persons from Sub-Saharan countries (see section on Access to the Territory). Between 1 January 2015 and 31 May 2017, only 2 out of 8,972 persons seeking asylum in Ceuta and Melilla were of Sub-Saharan origin. More recent statistics were not available at the time of writing of this report.
Access to the procedure from detention
Shortcomings have also been reported concerning the possibility to claim asylum from administrative detention due to the difficulties faced by detained persons in accessing legal assistance. In this regard, the Spanish Ombudsman recommended the General Commissariat for Foreigners and Borders to adopt instructions so as to establish an appropriate system for registration of asylum applications in CIE in accordance with the law.
In particular, the Ombudsman highlighted the difficulties faced by detainees to apply for asylum at CIEs, namely in Madrid where individuals are instructed to put their written intention to apply for asylum in a mailbox and to wait until the mailbox has been opened for the asylum procedure to start, and the fact that many persons have been expelled without having had access to the asylum procedure. In July 2018, the General Commissariat for Aliens and Borders of the Police issued instructions to all CIE to adapt their systems for registration of asylum applications to the existing law following a recommendation made by the Spanish Ombudsman. This included establishing a register and provide applications with a receipt of their application for international protection. However, in its 2019 Annual Report, the Spanish Ombudsman highlighted again that it received many complaints relating to the access to the procedure from CIEs, especially in Madrid. The Ombudsman thus reiterated its recommendation to the General Commissariat for Aliens and Borders of the National Police. It seems that the access to the procedure has slightly improved since then, and that detainees are provided information on the right to asylum by the Spanish Red Cross.
Access to the procedure on the Canary Islands
As already explained under Arrivals by sea, the Canary Islands were under huge pressure in 2020 following the increase of arrivals and the lack of available resources. This hindered the access to registration and to the asylum procedure. Some individuals further seem to decide not to apply for asylum because they believe that receiving a pre-expulsion order will facilitate their onward travel to the mainland, as the order contains an identification number that allows access to the irregular migrant reception system and can be used as an identifying document in travel.
Another important issue was reported specifically regarding the lack of registration of nationalities of people who are arriving in the Canary Islands. In 2020, the Spanish authorities did not disclose disaggregated data on nationalities of arrivals to the media, Members of Parliament or UNHCR. Nevertheless, according to statistics made available by the authorities to Frontex, the main countries of origin of migrants arriving to the Canary Islands via the Western African route were Morocco (11,759, 51%), migrants of unspecified sub-Saharan nationality (10 620, 46%), Mali (290, 1.3%), Côte d’Ivoire (95, 0.4%), Senegal (93, 0.4%), Guinea (65, 0.3%) and Algeria (47, 0.2%).
These statistics do not correspond to those shared by the Ministry of Interior with the Spanish Ombudsman. In its report of March 2021, the Spanish Ombudsman indicated that the main countries of origin of new arrivals in 2020 were as follows: Morocco (11,998), Senegal (4,539), Mali (4,126), Côte d’Ivoire (722), Guinea (687) and Gambia (571). The discrepancy in these figures, in particular regarding Senegal and Mali, is striking. The latter figures indicate a change of profile of the persons arriving to the Canary Islands and suggest that many of them may be in need of international protection. This was also confirmed by UNHCR who indicated that, as of September 2020, approximately 35% of arrivals in the Canary Islands were coming from Mali, and numbers put together by El Pais as of early 2021 suggested that for 2020 as a whole, Malians comprised approximately 20% of arrivals.
 Article 4(1) Asylum Regulation.
 Article 17(2) Asylum Act.
 Articles 34-35 Asylum Act.
 Article 6(4) Asylum Regulation.
 Defensor del Pueblo, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo investiga las dificultades para acceder a la cita previa para solicitar protección internacional en Madrid’, 15 November 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2StZDxk.
 Spanish Ombudsman, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo reclama mejoras en la coordinación entre administraciones con competencias en materia de protección internacional’, 20 June 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/qttyf5n.
 Ibidem, 239.
 El Diario, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo insta a la Policía a dejar de exigir requisitos no previstos en la ley a los solicitantes de asilo’, 22 December 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/37uCeWp; Público, ‘Una comisaría de Policía valenciana impide a demandantes de asilo acceder al procedimiento’, 27 December 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2M5NtgH.
 Oficina de Asilo y Refugio – OAR, ‘Asilo en cifras 2019’, July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3elpqGn; Oficina de Asilo y Refugio – OAR, ‘Asilo en cifras 2018’, September 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Onb39c; Senate, Reply of the Government to question 689/1339, 20 September 2017, available in Spanish at: http://bit.ly/2DHJ1yB.
 Information provided by OAR, 2 March 2018.
 Defensor del Pueblo, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo reclama un sistema de registro de las solicitudes de asilo para los CIE que cumpla con la normativa vigente’, 22 May 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2snaz4j.
 Ombudsman, ‘Interior acepta la recomendación del Defensor para adecuar el sistema de registro de las solicitudes de asilo en los CIE a la normativa vigente’, July 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2AYji28.
 Mixed Migration Centre: A Gateway Re-opens: the growing popularity of the Atlantic route,as told by those who risk it, February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3cDIE7y, 29; El Pais, ‘España vuelve a ser la principal puerta de entrada de la UE para la inmigración irregular’, 2 Jan 2021, avaialble in Spanish at : https://bit.ly/3bSl1sF; AP News, ‘Migrants trying to reach Europe pushed to deadly Atlantic, 2 September 2020’, available at: https://bit.ly/2Ntcrr2;