Country Report: Identification Last updated: 30/11/20


The Asylum Act does not provide a specific mechanism for the early identification of asylum seekers that are part of most vulnerable groups. Article 46(1) of the Asylum Act makes specific reference to vulnerable groups when referring to the general provisions on protection, stating that the specific situation of the applicant or persons benefiting from international protection in situations of vulnerability, will be taken into account, such in the case of minors, unaccompanied children, disabled people, people of advanced age, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, persons who have suffered torture, rape or other forms of serious violence psychological or physical or sexual, and victims of human trafficking.


Screening of vulnerability


In these cases, the Asylum Act encourages the adoption of necessary measures to guarantee a specialised treatment to these groups. These provisions, however, do not really concern procedural arrangements. Instead, the law makes reference to protection measures and assistance and services provided to the person.[1] In addition, due to the lack of a Regulation on the implementation of the Asylum Act to date, Article 46, as other provisions, is not implemented in practice.  

Early risk assessment and further kinds of vulnerability identification in practice are conducted by asylum officers during the conduct of the asylum interview with the applicant, or by civil society organisations that provide services and assistance during the asylum process and within asylum reception centres. In addition, the increase in the number of asylum seekers in 2017,2018 and 2019 has exacerbated difficulties in the identification of vulnerabilities.

The intervention of UNHCR should also be highlighted, as it plays an important consultative role during the whole asylum process. Under the Asylum Act, all registered asylum claims shall be communicated to the UN agency, 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.[2] In addition, UNHCR takes part in the Inter-Ministerial Commission of Asylum and Refuge (CIAR), with the right to speak but not to vote, playing a central role in the identification of particular vulnerabilities during the decision-making process.

Moreover, UNHCR’s access to asylum seekers at the border, in CIE or in penitentiary facilities enables the monitoring of most vulnerable cases considering procedural guarantees. These are crucial places for the identification of most vulnerable profiles due to the existing shortcomings and limitations that asylum seekers face in accessing to legal assistance. In asylum claims following the urgent procedure and in the case of an inadmissibility decision on border applications, UNHCR is able to request an additional 10 days term to submit a report to support the admission of the case. 

A frequently missed opportunity for early identification of vulnerable profiles within mixed migration flows is represented by the framework of Migrant Temporary Stay Centres (CETI) in Ceuta and Melilla. These centres manage the first reception of undocumented newly arrived migrants and non-identified asylum seekers, before they are transferred to the Spanish peninsula. For this reason, CETI could provide an opportunity for the establishment of a mechanism of early identification of most vulnerable collectives. NGOs and UNHCR who work in the CETI try to implement this important task, but unfortunately the limited resources, frequent overcrowding of the centres and short-term stay of the persons prevent them from effectively doing so.

The lack of a protocol for the identification and protection of persons with special needs in CETI has been criticised in a 2018 report, which highlights that vulnerable groups such as single women or mothers with children, trafficked persons, LGBTI people, religious minorities, unaccompanied children and victims of domestic violence cannot be adequately protected in these centres.[3] In addition, it is stressed that such factors of vulnerability, coupled with prolonged and indeterminate stay in the CETI, has a negative influence on the mental health of residents. The report recommended that those identified as being vulnerable should be quickly transferred to mainland in order to access protection in more adequate facilities.

As regards sea arrivals, identification of vulnerabilities should in principle be carried out in the CATE where newly arrived persons are accommodated (see Access to the Territory). This is not the case in practice, however, UNHCR and CEAR as implementing partner started a project in August 2018 with the aim of supporting authorities in the identification of persons arriving by boat in Andalucía.[4] More specifically, the teams of both organisations are in charge of providing legal information to persons arriving by boat, as well as detecting persons with vulnerabilities and special needs i.e. asylum seekers, children, trafficked persons, etc. Also, Save the Children started to deploy teams of professionals in some parts of the coast of Andalucía, in order to monitor sea arrivals, especially in relation to children. In particular, since 2018, the organisation works with migrant and refugee children arriving by boat to Algeciras, Almería and Málaga providing child-friendly spaces and counselling. The organization also has a child friendly space at the land border in Melilla since 2014.[5]

Major shortcomings regard victims of trafficking. Despite the adoption of a National Plan against Trafficking of Women and Girls for the purpose of Sexual Exploitation,[6] and of a Framework Protocol on Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking,[7] aiming at coordinating the action of all involved actors for guaranteeing protection to the victims, several obstacles still exist. In fact, not only is their early identification as victims of trafficking very difficult, but they also face huge obstacles in obtaining international protection. This fact is highlighted by the low number of identified victims of trafficking who have been granted refugee status in Spain. The first successful asylum claim on trafficking grounds was reported in 2009.

A report published by Accem in November 2019 underlines that the identification of trafficked persons is one of the main challenges existing in Spain, and that the procedure relies inter alia on the auto-identification by the victim as well as on his or her collaboration to the investigation and prosecution of the crime.[8] Moreover, a report published by CEAR-Euskadi in June 2019 acknowledges that improvements have been made since 2016 in the granting of international protection to trafficked persons thanks to a change of policy of the OAR, but the NGOs estimates that the recognition rate is still too low considering the dimension of the phenomenon in Spain.[9]

In order to improve the identification and referral of trafficked persons at the Madrid Barajas Airport, the Directorate-General for Integration and Humanitarian Assistance of the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration signed the adoption of a specific procedure in October 2019, together with the State Delegation for Gender Violence of the Ministry of the Presidency, Relation with the Parliament and Equality.[10] The new procedure foresees a collaboration framework with five NGOs working in the reception of asylum seekers and in the detection of – and assistance to – trafficked persons. The aim is to foster and guarantee a swift access to adequate support services, before and independently from their formal identification as victims of human trafficking. The NGOs participating to the procedure are the Spanish Red Cross, Proyecto Esperanza-Adoratrices, Association for the Prevention, Rehabilitation and Care for Women Prostituted (APRAMP), Diaconía and the Fundación Cruz Blanca. The idea is to extend the pilot project to other Spanish airports in the future, e.g. in Barcelona and Málaga.      

However, at the end of October 2019, the NGO CEAR reported that, despite being detected as victims of human trafficking by a specialised NGO at the Madrid airport, and despite the recommendations of the Spanish Ombudsman to avoid their repatriation due to the risks they could face, two young Vietnamese girls had been returned back to their home country.[11]

Concerns about the identification of trafficked persons and the need for more proactive detection of victims of trafficking among asylum seekers and migrants in an irregular situation have been highlighted by relevant international organisations, such as the Council of Europe Special Representative on Migration and Refugees,[12] and the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).[13] They also stressed the need of providing the staff working in CETI with training on the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings and their rights.

The Spanish Network against Trafficking in Persons (Red Española contra la Trata de Personas) and the Spanish Ombudsman agree on the fact that this is due to a malfunctioning of the protection system because the victims, after being formally identified by Spanish security forces, are given a residence permit based on provisions of the Aliens Act, instead of taking into consideration their possible fulfilment of the requirements for refugee status. The latter would of course guarantee greater protection to victims of trafficking.

The situation and the OAR’s attitude on this topic has started to change from the last months of 2016 and January 2017. In that period, 12 sub-Saharan women and their children were granted international protection.[14] Since then, the criteria adopted by the OAR have changed and the Office considers Nigerian women a “particular social group” according to the refugee definition, thus possible beneficiaries of international protection due to individual persecution connected to trafficking.

The OAR does not collect disaggregated statistics on vulnerable groups.


Age assessment of unaccompanied children


A specific Protocol regarding unaccompanied children was adopted in 2014 in cooperation between the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Employment, Health and Social Services and of Foreign Affairs along with the Public Prosecutor (Fiscalía General), which aims at coordinating the actions of all involved actors in the Spanish framework in relation to unaccompanied children.[15] It should be highlighted that, due to the territorial subdivision of competences, the Protocol only represents a guidance document for all actions involving unaccompanied minors, which aims at being replicated at lower regional level. In fact, children-related issues fall within the competence of the Autonomous Regions between which governance is divided in Spain.

The Protocol sets out the framework for the identification of unaccompanied children within arrivals at sea and defines the procedure that should be followed for the conduct of age assessment procedures in case of doubts about the age of the minor.

It establishes that children’s passports and travel documents issued by official authorities have to be considered as sufficient evidence of the age of the person,[16] but it also sets out the exceptions to this rule and the cases in which the child can be considered undocumented, and accordingly be subjected to medical age assessment. These circumstances are the following:

  1. The documents present signs of forgery or have been corrected, amended, or erased;
  2. The documents incorporate contradictory data to other documents issued by the issuing country;
  3. The child is in possession of two documents of the same nature that contain different data;
  4. Data is contradictory to previous medical age assessments, conducted at the request of the public prosecutor or other judicial, administrative or diplomatic Spanish authority; 
  5. Lack of correspondence between the data incorporated into the foreign public document and the physical appearance of the person concerned;
  6. Data substantially contradicts circumstances alleged by the bearer of the document; or
  7. The document includes implausible data.


Concerning the fourth condition relating to previous age assessments, it is important to note that these age determination tests are not precise and make an estimation of the date of birth of the young migrant, which would imply cases where the two dates of birth would never coincide. In those cases, the Protocol would justify the application of a second age assessment test and the non-consideration of the officially issued document of the person.


Medical methods and consideration of documentary evidence


Under Article 35(3) of the Aliens Act, the competence to decide on the application of medical tests aimed to remove the doubts about the majority or minority of age of undocumented children is exclusive of the Public Prosecutor's Office. The medical assessment foresees the application of X-ray tests to assess the maturity of the minor’s bones.

When the medical test has been performed, the age of the person will match with the lower value of the fork; the day and month of birth will correspond to the date in which the test has been practiced.

These tests have resulted in very problematic age determinations and have attracted many criticisms from international organisations,[17] NGOs, academics, as well as administration officers and the Spanish Ombudsman.[18] The main concerns regard the inaccurate nature of the tests, their ethnic irrelevance mainly due to the lack of professionals’ medical knowledge on the physical development of non-European minors, the lack of provision of information to the minor on how tests work and on the whole procedure. In addition, it has been proven by several documents that, while these tests limit children’s access to their dedicated protection system, they do not limit adults’ access to the minors’ system.[19] The most criticised aspect of the practical application of the tests for the determination of age is the lack of legislative coherence and the excessive discretion of the authorities.

The provisions of the Protocol do not follow the recent Spanish Supreme Court ruling, which has provided clarification and the right interpretation of Article 35 of Aliens Act, which provides that “in case it is not possible to surely assess the age, tests for age determination can be used”.[20]

In this judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that, when the official documentation of the minor states the age minority, the child must be sent to the protection system without the conduct of medical tests. In the cases when the validity of the documentation is unclear, the courts will have to assess with proportionality the reasons for which the mentioned validity is questioned. In that case, medical tests can be conducted but always bearing in mind that the doubts based on the physical aspects of the minor must be read in his or her favour. In the same way, documented unaccompanied minor migrants cannot be considered undocumented if they hold an official document issued by their country of origin. As said above, this latter aspect is contradicted by the Protocol.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has also granted interim measures in cases concerning medical age assessments of unaccompanied children in 2017.[21] D.D. v. Spain, which refers to an individual communication on behalf of an unaccompanied Malian minor in November 2015, challenged the applicant’s unlawful return from Spain to Morocco. In June 2017, the Committee on the Rights of the Child decided to examine the admissibility of the communication together with its merits. In May 2018, different organisations such as ICJ, ECRE, the AIRE Centre and the Dutch Council for Refugees submitted a third party intervention to support the complaint of the applicant.[22] In February 2019, the Committee body adopted a decision condemning Spain for the illegal practice and establishing the obligation to compensate the applicant.[23]

On 27 September 2018, the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued an opinion in N.B.F. v. Spain,[24] providing relevant guidance on age assessment. In particular, it stressed that, in the absence of identity documents and in order to assess the child’s age, states should proceed to a comprehensive evaluation of the physical and psychological development of the child and such examination should be carried out by specialised professionals such as paediatricians. The evaluation should be quickly carried out, taking into account cultural and gender issues, by interviewing the child in a language he or she can understand. States should avoid basing age assessment on medical examinations such as bone and teeth examinations, as they are not precise, have a great margin of error, can be traumatic and give rise to unnecessary procedures.

On 31 May 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) decided in two separate cases on age assessments conducted on unaccompanied children, A.L.[25] and J.A.B.[26], in Spain, thus providing relevant elements on the age assessment procedure carried out by Spanish authorities.[27]

In the case A.L. v. Spain, the Committee recalled that the determination of the age of a young person claiming to be a minor is of fundamental importance, since the outcome determines whether that person will be entitled to protection as a child and the rights that flow from this, or will be excluded from such protection. With reference to General Comment No. 6, the Committee held that both physical appearance and psychological maturity have to be taken into account and that the assessment must be based on scientific criteria with consideration of the best interests of the child. In cases of uncertainty, the individual should be given the benefit of the doubt, so that, in the case of a child, they are treated as such. With regard to legal representation, the Committee held that the appointment of a legal guardian or a representative is an essential guarantee during the age assessment process. The denial of access to legal representation constitutes a violation of the right to be heard. In light of the above, the Committee found a violation of both applicants’ rights under Articles 3 and 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In respect of J.A.B., the Committee held that Spain had failed to protect him against his situation of helplessness, particularly given his high degree of vulnerability as a minor who is a migrant, unaccompanied and ill. The Committee noted that this lack of protection occurred even after the author submitted identity documents to the Spanish authorities confirming that he was a child. The Committee considered that this constituted a violation of Articles 20 (1) and 24. The Committee further ruled that   Spain now has an obligation to avoid similar violations through ensuring age assessments are conducted in conformity with the Convention, that the procedures take into account the documentation presented and that legal representation is allocated.

In practice, medical age assessment procedures are used as a rule rather than as an exception, and are applied to both documented and undocumented children, no matter if they present official identity documentation or if they manifestly appear to be minors; the benefit of the doubt is also not awarded in practice. Children are also not given the benefit of the doubt if they present documentation with contradictory dates of birth. In several cases in Madrid Barajas Airport in 2017, children with identity documents stating their minority were registered as adults due to the fact that they were travelling with a (false) passport declaring them over the age of 18.[28] Children who are declared adults while their country of origin documentation states they are children are in fact expelled from both child and adult protection due to the inconsistency between the age sets stated in their documentation.

As underlined by Save the Children, the main difficulties for children arriving to Spain concern their identification and age assessment and the detection of their vulnerability. Also, the presumption of minor age at entry points has proven to be difficult, especially when involving adolescents or girls and boys close to turning 18. Where the border police have doubts over a child’s age, and no identification documents are provided, the children are not systematically integrated under public minor protection system until their age is assessed. This means that some of them have to wait inside CATEs (which are de facto detention centers managed by the police) until they are taken to the nearest hospital to have their age assessed through radiographies of their wrist, collar bone or teeth. The age assessment procedure (e.g. using X-ray examination) is subject to many criticisms both from scientific and civil society sectors as they are not reliable, with a margin of error of the age that can vary from down to up to 2 years.[29]

In addition, several NGOs denounce the discriminatory application of the procedure, as for example it is always applied to Moroccan unaccompanied young migrants, and the only original documentation that is considered as valid is the one that states that the migrant has reached the major age. Some organisations have also expressed concerns around and denounced the fact that most of the unaccompanied migrants are declared adults, following several applications of the tests until the result declares the person of major age.[30] In this way, the Autonomous Communities would avoid having the minors in their charge.

In order to guarantee unaccompanied children effective access to justice, the Spanish Ombudsman issued a recommendation to the State General Prosecutor (Fiscal General del Estado).[31] The Ombudsman recommended the adoption of an instruction providing that, in the context of the procedure to assess the age of a person issued an expulsion order, public prosecutors shall issue the decree establishing the person’s majority before removal is executed. The recommendation has been rejected by the authorities in 2019, however.    

A recent tragic incident highlights the negative impact that age assessments can have on children, as one adolescent from Guinea-Conakry committed suicide in November 2019 after the assessment declared he was an adult. He had been under the guardianship of Cataluña during five months and was then hosted by a family when he was forced to leave the child reception facility, but still decided to commit suicide following the age assessment.[32]   


Other obstacles in practice


Last but not least, the Protocol does not foresee legal assistance for minors from the moment they come into contact with the authorities. The minor, who is in charge of signing the authorisation to be subjected to the tests of age determination, can only count on the right to an interpreter to explain to him or her the procedure. On the contrary, the possibility to be assisted by a lawyer is not foreseen.

It should be highlighted that one of the main problems regarding the age of unaccompanied children, and in particular those arriving in Ceuta and Melilla, is the fact that many prefer to declare themselves as adults because of the deficiencies of the minors’ protection system and the restriction of movement to which they are subject in the two autonomous cities. This means that unaccompanied children prefer to be transferred to the Spanish peninsula as adults, thereby not being able to access the ad hoc protection system there, instead of remaining as children in Ceuta and Melilla. Once in the peninsula, these children find it almost impossible to prove they are minors as they have already been registered and documented as adults.

Statistics on age assessments in 2019 were not available at the time of writing. From 2014 to 2018, the Prosecutor concluded the following age assessment examinations:


Age assessments by outcome: 2014-2018

Type of decision






Total assessments conducted






Determined as adult






Determined as minor






Did not appear for age assessment






Source: Fiscalía General, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Activity reports:, and


In 2018, age assessment procedures doubled those carried out in 2017 and were six times higher than in 2016. Cádiz (which includes Algeciras, the capital Cádiz and Jerez) concentrates the majority of the procedures carried out (4,113), followed by Barcelona (1,853), Almería (1,192) and Granada (1,115). Moreover, it is worth highlighting that age assessment outcomes vary from one region to another: in Málaga and Granada examinations mainly led to declarations of majority, while declarations of minority were prevalent in Girona, Murcia, Barcelona, Madrid, Ceuta and Las Palmas. More balanced results have been noted in Almería and Cádiz.


[1] Article 46(2) Asylum Act.

[2]  Articles 34-35 Asylum Act.

[3]  Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, Sacar del laberinto – Informe Frontera Sur 2018, December 2018, available in Spanish at:, 40 and 53.

[4]  CEAR, ‘CEAR y ACNUR se unen para facilitar la identificación de refugiados en costas’, 14 August 2018, available in Spanish at:

[5] Information provided by Save the Children, 1 April 2020.

[6] Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, Plan Integral De Lucha Contra La Trata De Mujeres Y Niñas Con Fines De Explotación Sexual, 2015-2018, available in Spanish at:

[7] Framework Protocol of 2011 against trafficking (“Protocolo Marco de Protección de las Víctimas de Trata de Seres Humanos”), available in Spanish at:

[8] Laura Carrillo Palacios and Teresa De Gasperis (Accem), ‘La otra cara de la trata’, November 2019, available in Spanish at:

[9] CEAR-Euskadi, ‘Retos en el avance hacia una protección de las mujeres y niñas en situación de trata en Euskadi desde un enfoque de protección internacional’, June 2019, available in Spanish at:

[10] Ministerio de Trabajo, Migraciones y Seguridad Social, ‘El Gobierno pone en marcha un procedimiento de derivación de potenciales víctimas de trata de seres humanos en el aeropuerto de Barajas’, 15 October 2019, available in Spanish at:

[11] CEAR, ‘La devolución de dos jóvenes vietnamitas, un clamoroso paso atrás contra la trata’, 31 October 2019, available at:

[12] Council of Europe, Report of the fact-finding mission by Ambassador Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees, to Spain, 18-24 March 2018, SG/Inf(2018)25, 3 September 2018.

[13] GRETA, Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Spain – Second Evaluation Round, GRETA(2018)7, 20 June 2018, available at:

[14] CEAR, ‘España empieza a reconocer el derecho de asilo a las víctimas de trata’, 16 January 2017, available in Spanish at:

[15] Framework Protocol of 13 October 2014 on actions relating to foreign unaccompanied minors, available in Spanish at:

[16] Chapter II, para 6 Protocol on Unaccompanied Minors.

[17] For a critique by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), see El Diario, ‘La desprotección de los menores migrantes solos en España’, 17 February 2016, available in Spanish at: See also Save the Children Spain, Menores no acompañados: Informe sobre la situación de los menores no acompañados en España, 2005, available in Spanish at:

[18] Ombudsman, Determinación edad presunta menor de edad, 10 May 2017, available in Spanish at:

[19] Clara Isabel Barrio Lema, María José Castaño Reyero and Isabel Diez Velasco, Instituto Universitario de Estudios sobre Migraciones, Universidad Pontificia Comillas, ‘Colectivos vulnerables en el sistema de asilo’, December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[20] Supreme Court, Judgment No 453/2014, 23 September 2014, available in Spanish at: See EDAL summary at:

[21] OHCHR, Table of pending cases before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, available at:; EU Observer, ‘Spain turns its back on migrant children's rights’, 7 August 2017, available at:

[22] AIRE Centre et al., Third party intervention in D.D. v Spain, 4/2016 to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 31 May 2018, available at:

[23] El País, ‘La ONU reprende a España por devolver en caliente a un menor’, 19 February 2019, available in Spanish at:; ECCHR, ‘Spanish practice of push-backs violates children’s rights’, 19 February 2019, available at:

[24] Committee on the Rights of the Child, N.B.F. v. Spain, CRC/C/79/D/11/2017, 27 September 2018, available in Spanish at:

[25] Committee on the Rights of the Child, A.L. v. Spain, CRC/C/81/D/16/2017, 31 May 2019, available at:

[26] Committee on the Rights of the Child, J.A.B. v. Spain, CRC/C/81/D/22/2017, 31 may 2019, available at:

[27] See EDAL summay at:

[28] CEAR, ‘Defensor del Pueblo reclama presunción de minoría de edad a refugiados’, 2 August 2017, available in Spanish at:; Ombudsman, Presunción de minoría de edad para solicitantes de asilo, 12 July 2017, available in Spanish at:

[29] Information provided by Save the Children, 1 April 2020.

[30] Fundaciòn Raices, Solo por estar solos, 2014, available in Spanish at:

[31] Ombudsman, ‘Procedimiento de determinación de la edad. decreto de mayoría de edad y notificación a los interesados, por parte de los fiscales, con anterioridad a la materialización de su devolución’, 13 September 2018, available in Spanish at:

[32] El Periódico, ‘El sueño roto de Omar’, 9 November 2019, available in Spanish at:;  Revista 5w, ‘Número 51 – Omar Diallo fue declarado mayor de edad, salió de un centro para niños solos y migrados en Cataluña y acabó suicidándose’, 16 November 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