Conditions in detention facilities


Country Report: Conditions in detention facilities Last updated: 30/11/20


Conditions in CIE


According to Article 62-bis of the Aliens Act, CIEs are public establishments of a non-penitentiary nature. Admission to and stay in these facilities shall be solely for preventive and precautionary purposes, safeguarding the rights and freedoms recognised in the legal system, with no limitations other than those applying to their freedom of movement, in accordance with the content and purpose of the judicial detention order of admission.

Article 62-bis of the Aliens Act further entails a list of rights recognised to the detained individuals. This includes the right to be informed and to have access to a lawyer, to an interpreter, to appropriate medical and health support as well as access to NGOs working with migrants. They also have the right to have their life, physical integrity and health respected, and to have their dignity and privacy preserved

The conditions for the access to NGOs as well as the access to adequate social and health care services must be laid down by way of regulation.

The CIE Regulation,[1] which was adopted in 2014, provides in its Article 3 that:

“The competences on direction, coordination, management and inspection of the centres correspond to the Ministry of the Interior and they are exercised through the General Directorate of the police, who will be responsible for safety and security, without prejudice to judicial powers concerning the entry clearance and control of the permanence of foreigners.” 

The Ministry of the Interior is also responsible for the provision of health and social care in the centres, notwithstanding whether such service can be arranged with other ministries or public and private entities.

On the operation and living conditions within the CIE, there is scarce official information provided by the administrations responsible for their management. Due to this lack of transparency, during the last years several institutions and NGOs have developed actions of complaint and denounce shortcomings in the functioning of the CIE. Examples of these activities are the specialised annual reports by the Ombudsman (and its respective representatives at regional level), by the State Prosecutor,[2] and by several organisations of the third sector, academic institutions[3] and media. In addition, valuable information is contained in the rulings of the judicial bodies responsible for controlling stays in the CIE (Jueces de Control de Estancia).

While the CIE Regulation was long awaited, it was established with many aspects to be improved and ignoring many of the recommendations formulated by the aforementioned entities. This is reflected by the decision of the Supreme Court, which, right after the adoption of the Regulation, cancelled four of its provisions as contrary to the Returns Directive, regarding the need to establish separated units for families, procedural safeguards on second-time detention and prohibition of corporal inspections.[4]

In December 2017 the Ombudsman published a set of recommendations to the General Department of Aliens Affairs and Borders, in order to improve the social, legal and cultural assistance provided in CIE.[5] In addition, following a visit carried out during the same month to the provisional CIE of Archidona, the Spanish Ombudsman identified a huge number of shortcomings, including in the provision of basic services.[6]

Conditions and riots

Even though under the law CIE do not have the status of a prison, the reality in practice suggests otherwise and conditions of detention therein are still not satisfactory. CIE have been the object of high public scrutiny and have attracted media and NGO attention during 2019 due to several incidents that took place throughout the year. Following incidents were reported in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona:

In July 2019, a 25-years-old man originating from Morocco committed suicide at the CIE of Valencia. He had been put in isolation following a fight that broke out in the centre a few hours earlier. The Court of Valencia decided to investigate the causes of the death.[7] It seems that the man had informed the director of the centre that he was in deep pain following the fight,[8] and that it took almost 20 minutes to the guards of the centre to intervene following the commitment of suicide.[9] The Spanish Ombudsman, which received a complaint lodged by the Campaña CIEs No (Campaign CIEs No), also initiated an investigation to clarify the circumstances and responsibilities of the case.[10].

In December 2019, a person being detained at the same CIE secretly recorded videos demonstrating the inhumane conditions of the facility and denouncing its prison-like conditions. The videos show black-coloured water leaking from the showers, dirty and non-functioning toilets, as well as dark cells with many bunk beds.[11] The supervising judge of the Court of Valencia carried out a visit to the centre and conducted interviews with the detained individuals.[12]

At the beginning of January 2020, different individuals detained at the same CIE started a hunger strike to protest against their deprivation of liberty and against the detention of children and ill persons.[13] The Ministry of Interior, which had already announced renovations of the centre at the beginning of 2019, reiterated in January 2020 that these would take place and would last at least until March 2020.[14]

On April 2019, 69 detained individuals at the CIE of Madrid were forced out of the centre to be checked one-by-one by the police, despite the bad weather conditions.[15] Following a complaint filed by the detained individuals, the investigation indicated acts of torture, disproportionate actions of the police officers and the violation of the detainees’ dignity. The surveillance judge referred the case to the Chairman of the Court of Madrid (Juzgado Decano), in order to investigate the facts and the responsible persons.[16]

On May 2019, 101 individuals detained at the same CIE further signed a complaint addressed to the surveillance judge, denouncing the serious human rights violations occurring at the centre.[17] Following issues were raised: inhumane treatment and continuous aggressions which remain unpunished; scarce medical assistance and lack of access to medicine; lack of psychological support; irregularities in expulsion procedures (i.e. no or limited information on deadlines as well as unjustified isolation); obstacles and/or denial of access to the asylum procedure; arbitrary access of family members or relatives for the purpose of visits. Different NGOs, who regularly visit the centre (i.e. SOS Racismo, Pueblo Unidos, Plataforma CIEs No Madrid, etc.) supported the complaint. In June 2019, more than 100 NGOs called for the resignation of the director of the CIE of Aluche in Madrid on the ground of serious human rights violations in the centre.[18] At the time of writing, the director of the CIE was still in of charge.

In December 2019, the National Court of Barcelona (Audiencia Nacional) ordered the reopening of an investigation at the CIE of Barcelona, where several detained migrants tried to escape in 2017. This followed alleged aggressions and mistreatment by police officers.[19]

Information on the conditions inside detention centres can be found in the reports from the visits conducted to the CIE by the Spanish Ombudsman, including within its responsibilities as National Prevention Mechanism for Torture. The findings, facts and recommendations concerning the CIE visited by the Ombudsman are available in the Annual Report 2017,[20] as well as in the report issued by National Prevention Mechanism against Torture.[21] Moreover, the annual report of the Jesuit Migrants Service on the CIE in Spain contains relevant information on conditions and their situation, thanks to the visits that the organisation carries out.[22] In its report of June 2019, which summarises findings of visits carried out in 5 CIE (in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Algeciras and Tarifa), the NGO highlights the discrimination faced by Algerians and Moroccans, who represent two third of the detained population.

Visits to the CIE of Aluche in Madrid are regularly carried out by the organisation SOS Racismo, including with the aim to provide legal and psychological support to detainees.[23]

The supervising judge of the CIE of Barrancoseco in Las Palmas of Gran Canaria stated in his report published following a visit to the facility that the CIE does not guarantee a dignified treatment of inmates. The judge indicated that, despite renovations which amounted to a total of €1.5 million, the facility still presents deficiencies and irregularities since it was reopened in November 2019.[24]   

The supervising judge of the CIE in Algeciras and Tarifa stated in April 2019 that the facilities failed to comply with the recommendations made the previous years, especially regarding the detention conditions. Despite the fact that detainees now have access to mobile phones and chargers, other measures have not been adopted yet. For example, the CIE in Algeciras failed to establish common guidance for the juridical, social and cultural assistance. Moreover, the bars in the inmates’ rooms have not been removed, the construction of ludic spaces and the installation of lockers and tables have not been carried out, and a 24 hours’ medical service and natural light in the rooms are not guaranteed.[25]

Following to the COVID-19 outbreak in Spain in March 2020, different organisations forming the ‘National Campaign for the Closure of CIE’ (Campaña Estatal por el Cierre de los CIE) requested the Government to release persons detained at CIEs and top stop issuing new detention orders.[26] Many detainees at the CIEs of Madrid and Barcelona started to protest due to the lack of security health measures, the prohibition to receive visits and the impossibility to carry out deportations.[27]

On 18 March 2020 the Government started to release persons from the CIE of Aluche in Madrid that could be not be deported before March 29 due to the emergency situation and the closure of borders by many countries of origin.[28] The Spanish Ombudsman stated it was in coordination with the General Commissariat of Aliens and Borders and with the State-Secretary for Migration to ensure that the release of inmates is made in accordance with the health and security measures established by the State of Alarm decree. The Ombudsman is also coordinating to ensure a referral mechanism of individuals to the reception system for asylum and to the humanitarian assistance reception places.[29]

On 23 March 2020, the ‘National Campaign for the Closure of CIE’ expressed concerns as regards the delays in releasing individuals. While acknowledging the release of all migrants at the CIE of Barcelona and of other detention centres across Spain, the organisations composing the Campaign denounced that only 35% of inmates have been released so far and that the Minister of Interior still maintained around 300 non-expellable persons in detention. This COVID-19 situation increases the vulnerability of persons in detention, as well as the possibility of contagion, resulting in different riots and protests in many facilities (e.g. in Madrid and Barcelona but also CIEs in Murcia and Valencia)[30].    

On 31 March 202,0 the investigating judge of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria ordered the evacuation of the CIE of Barranco Seco in the Canary Islands, as some COVID-19 cases have been detected there. The situation of overcrowding renders social distance measures impossible according to the decision.[31]

Activities, health care and special needs

The CIE Regulation governs the provision of services for sanitary assistance,[32] including access to medical and pharmaceutical assistance (and hospital assistance when needed), and contains provisions concerning clean clothes, personal hygiene kits and diets that take into account personal requirements.[33] In the same way, Article 15 of the Regulation concerns the provision of services for social, legal and cultural assistance, which can be provided by contracted NGOs. Detained third-country nationals can receive visits from relatives during the established visiting hours,[34] and have access to open air spaces.[35]

The Annual Report 2018 published by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity of National Prevention Mechanism underlines the constant deficiencies of CIE in terms of space, ventilation, water, heating and toilets.[36] It also recalls the different recommendations made to the government for the purpose of improving the health and habitability conditions for individuals, and those put in place by the competent authorities. In its Annual Report, the institution also recalls the commitment taken by the Council of Ministers in January 2019 regarding the elaboration of a plan of reform of the CIEs as well as the construction of a new facility in Algeciras.

Concerning families with children in detention, although the Regulation did not initially foresee ad hoc facilities, the 2015 ruling of the Spanish Supreme Court obliged the detention system for foreigners to provide separated family spaces. Officially recognised unaccompanied minors are not detained in CIE, although there have been several reported cases of non-identified minors in detention.

The Annual Report 2018 published by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Prevention Mechanism further underlines that, although the detention of children is prohibited under national law,[37] children continue to be frequently detained in practice, mainly because they are not identified as such at Spanish entry points.[38] It states that 88 children were identified at the CIEs during 2018 (compared to 48 in 2017), out of which the majority are being detained at the CIEs of Barcelona and Murcia (i.e. approximately 20 children respectively).

Notwithstanding legal provisions, and the improvement in conditions after the adoption of the CIE Regulation, each centres still presents deficiencies, as the establishment of specific available services depends on each of the CIE directors.

In general, shortcomings have been reported concerning structural deficiencies or significant damages which may put at risk the health and safety of detained persons, overcrowding, absence of differentiated modalities for persons who have committed mere administrative infractions, restrictions to visits or to external communications, frequent lack of material for leisure or sports activities. In addition, the provision of legal, medical, psychological and social assistance is limited and not continuous; detained persons often lack information regarding their legal situation, their rights or the date of their return when removal is applicable. Also, interpreters and translators are often not available in practice.

In its 2018 report on the Spanish CIEs, the Jesuit Migrant Service expressed concerns about the deficiencies of the health services, as well as the lack of identification mechanisms for victims of human trafficking, sexual or labour exploitation as well as persons fleeing persecution.[39]  

The 2018 Annual Report published by the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Prevention Mechanism indicates that, despite the CIE Regulation, not all the CIEs provide access to legal assistance.[40] At the time of writing, only the CIEs of Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia seemed to provide legal assistance.  


Conditions in police stations


Migrants detained in police stations after arriving in Spain by sea face dire conditions. In 2017, Human Rights Watch denounced substandard conditions in police facilities in Motril, Almería and Málaga.[41] Facilities in Motril and Almería have large, poorly lit cells with thin mattresses on the floor, while the Málaga police station has an underground jail with no natural light or ventilation. Persons are locked in at all times, except for medical checks, fingerprinting and interviews.[42]

In December 2018, the Spanish Ombudsman recommended that a higher quality of assistance and reception should be provided to migrants who arrive by sea to Spain.[43] Moreover, in its 2018 Annual Report, the Spanish Ombudsman stated that the current situation in these facilities directly results from the current legislation which establishes only minimum material conditions for individuals who are being detained (i.e. resulting in the inadequacy of certain facilities, lack of access to natural light, lack of  space/room for interviews with lawyers, lack of food and of potable water, etc.).[44] Similarly in 2019, the Ombudsman recommended that material detention conditions are harmonised at national level, as the current situation of different facilities visited is still not in line with the minimum material conditions laid down in law.[45]


Conditions in border facilities


Border facilities have been visited and monitored by the Spanish Ombudsman. The inadequacy of such facilities at the airports of Madrid and Barcelona has been pointed out by the Spanish Ombudsman, in terms of guarantee of privacy and rest, medical assistance, adapted spaces for children, etc.[46] As noted in the report, a comprehensive reform of the asylum facilities of the Madrid’s airport is underway at the time of writing.

Similarly, in its 2018 Annual Report, the Spanish Ombudsman stated the facilities at the international airports (which are the property of the Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea – AENA), in which asylum seekers are detained, are inadequate and not adapted to host both border facilities and police facilities.[47] It also highlights the lack of natural light and of space which is needed, especially due to the presence of children.

In a visit carried out in 2018 at the Barcelona El Prat Airport, the Spanish Ombudsman to, considered that the facility was not adequate for a police station and for holding asylum seekers.  In addition, it reported that the food provided to asylum seekers in such facilities was not adequate, considering that they can stay there for up to 10 days.[48]


[1]  Real Decreto 162/2014, de 14 de marzo, por el que se aprueba el reglamento de funcionamiento y régimen interior de los centros de internamiento de extranjeros.

[3] Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, Sufrimiento Inútil – Informe CIE 2017, June 2018, 8.

[4] El Pais, ‘El Supremo anula cuatro articulos de la norma de los Centros de Inetrnamiento’, 27 January 2015, available at:

[5] Ombudsman, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo formula seis recomendaciones para mejorar la asistencia social, jurídica y cultural en los CIE’, 18 December 2017, available in Spanish at:

[6] Ombudsman, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo detecta numerosas carencias en las instalaciones de Archidona en las que se encuentran internados más de medio millar de ciudadanos extranjeros’, 1 December 2017, available in Spanish at:

[7] El Periódico, ‘Investigan la muerte de un interno del CIE de València, 16 July 2019’, available in Spanish at:

[8] Levante, ‘El joven que murió en el CIE alertó de los dolores que sufría tras una pelea’, 22 July 2019, available at:

[9]ABC, ‘La Policía tardó 19 minutos en encontrar al interno del CIE que se suicidó y los jesuitas piden explicaciones’, 20 July 2019, available in Spanish at:

[10]La Vanguardia, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo investiga la muerte del marroquí en el CIE de València’, 9 August 2019, available in Spanish at:

[11] El Diario, ‘Dentro del CIE: las "inhumanas" condiciones del centro de extranjeros de València grabadas por un interno’, 13 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[12]El Diario, ‘El juez de vigilancia visita el CIE de Valencia tras difundirse un vídeo sobre las "inhumanas" condiciones del centro’, 27 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[13] Levante, ‘Internos del CIE llevan más de 24 horas en huelga de hambre’, 5 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[14] El Diario, ‘Las sombras del CIE de Valencia: una muerte, denuncias de agresiones policiales y condiciones "deplorables" para los internos’, 7 January 2020, available at:

[15] El Diario, Una jueza ve indicios de delito de tortura por parte de policías contra inmigrantes del CIE de Madrid, 29 May 2019, available in Spanish at:

[16] Judge of inquiry nº 19 of Madrid, Decision 893/2019, 27 May 2019, available in Spanish at:

[17] Mundo en Movimiento, ‘101 personas internas en el CIE de Aluche denuncian públicamente vulneraciones de derechos’, 2 May 2019, available in Spanish at:  

[18] El País, ‘Más de 150 ONG piden el cese del director del CIE de Madrid’, 9 July 2019, available in Spanish at:

[19] El Nacional, ‘La Audiencia manda imputar policías del CIE por agresiones después de un intento de huida’, 4 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[20]Ombudsman, Informe Anual2018 – Volumen I. Informe de Gestión, June 2019, available in Spanish at:

[21]Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, September 2019, available at:

[22]Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, Discriminación de origen – Informe CIE 2018, June 2019, available in Spanish at:

[23]SOS Racismo, Visitas al CIE de Aluche, available in Spanish at:

[24] El Salto Diario, ‘El CIE de Las Palmas no garantiza “un trato digno” tras una reforma de un millón y medio de euros’, 11 February 2020, available at:

[25]El Diario, ‘Rejas en habitaciones sin luz natural: Interior vuelve a obviar requerimientos judiciales para el CIE de Algeciras’, 19 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[26]El Salto, ‘Piden la libertad de las personas retenidas en los CIE y su cierre definitivo’, 13 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[27] Directa, ‘Interns del CIE de Barcelona protesten per la manca de mesures sanitàries davant la crisi del coronavirus’, 14 March 2020, available in Spanish at:; 20minutos, ‘Internos del CIE de Aluche se amotinan para denunciar su exposición al coronavirus: "Tenemos síntomas"’, 17 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[28]El Salto, ‘Liberadas del CIE de Aluche las primeras personas inexpulsables’, 19 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[29]El Salto, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo confirma la liberación de internas de los CIE’, 19 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[30] El Salto, ‘Interior mantiene en los CIE a casi 300 personas inexpulsables’, 23 March 2020, available in Spanish at:; Cuarto Poder, ‘Denuncia desde el CIE de Valencia: “Como se contagie alguien, nos contagiamos todos”’, 28 March 2020, available in Spanish at:

[31]El País, ‘Un juez ordena el desalojo del CIE de Las Palmas para frenar los contagios’, 1 April 2020, available in Spanish at:

[32]Article 14 CIE Regulation.

[33] Articles 39-47 CIE Regulation.

[34] Article 42 CIE Regulation.

[35] Article 40 CIE Regulation.

[36] Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, September 2019, available in Spanish at: , 77.

[37] Article 62.4 Aliens Act.

[38] Ibid, 70.

[39] Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, Discriminación de origen – Informe CIE 2018, June 2019, available in Spanish at:, 13.

[40]Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, September 2019, p. 78, available in Spanish at:, 78.

[41] Human Rights Watch, ‘Spain: Migrants held in poor conditions’, 31 July 2017, available at:

[42]CEAR, Refugiados y migrantes en España: Los muros invisibles tras la frontera sur, December 2017, available in Spanish at:, 15.

[43] Ombudsman, ‘El Defensor insiste en la necesidad de mejorar la primera acogida de personas migrantes que llegan a las costas en situación irregular’, 17 December 2018, available in Spanish at:

[44] Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, September 2019, available in Spanish at:, 43.

[45]Ombusman, ‘Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención’, September 2019, available in Spanish at:

[46]Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2017 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, July 2018, 63-66.

[47]Ombudsman, Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención, September 2019, available in Spanish at:, 59.

[48]Ombudsman, ‘Informe Anual 2018 – Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención’, September 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