Country Report: General Last updated: 25/03/21


The evolution of immigration detention in recent years has been as follows:

Immigration detention in Spain: 2015-2019
Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Total of persons in detention 6,930 7,597 8,814 7,855 6,473

Source: Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes – SJM, Informe CIE 2019. Diez años mirando a otro lado, July 2020, available at:  

According to the 2020 Annual report of the Public Prosecutor Office, the top 4 countries of origin of migrants detained in 2019 were Morocco (2,645 persons), Algeria (1,922), Albania (232) and Senegal (218).[1] Figures on detention during the year 2020 will only be made available later in 2021.

Persons already undergoing an asylum procedure are not detained. However, people who apply for asylum after being placed in detention, both in detention centres for foreigners, called Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE), and in penitentiary structures, remain detained pending the decision on admission into the asylum procedure. Thus, CIEs centres are theoretically not designed for the detention of asylum seekers, but rather for the detention of migrants who are found to be living without residence permit on the Spanish territory, or for those who are found to have entered irregularly the Spanish territory, and have to be expelled or repatriated under the Aliens Act. In 2020, 776 persons applied for asylum from CIEs.[2]

The competent authority to authorise and, where appropriate, annul the placement in a CIE is the Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial) which has territorial jurisdiction over the place where detention is imposed. Moreover, the arrest of a foreigner shall be communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy or consulate of the person detained, when detention is imposed with the purpose of return as a result of the refusal of entry.[3]

If the applicant is detained, the urgent procedure will be applied, which halves the time limits for a decision (see Prioritised Examination). The quality of the asylum procedure when the application is made from detention is affected mostly in relation to access to information on international protection, which is not easily available, and access to legal assistance, as communication is not as easy as for asylum seekers at liberty. In addition, several shortcomings are due to the urgent procedure to which applicants are subject, as it hinders access to appeals once the application is rejected, and a subsequent order of removal is applied.

In practice, asylum seekers can also be detained if their international protection needs are not identified or if they have not access to the asylum procedure. By way of illustration, 16 Moroccan activists of the Rif region reported in January 2021 to have fled persecution from their country of origin and to have explicitly expressed their intention to apply for international protection following their arrival by boat to Granada. Despite this, they were detained at the CIE of Murcia and only four of them were able to access the asylum procedure within their first week of arrival, while the others were still waiting by the time of publication of the relevant news article.[4] In February 2021, 8 of them were released from the CIE as their application for international protection were admitted.[5]

In Spain there are 7 CIE which are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior. These facilities are located in Algeciras-Tarifa, Barcelona, Las Palmas, Madrid, Murcia, Tenerife, and Valencia, making up a total capacity ranging between 1,200 and 1,500 places, according to available information.[6] Between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, a prison in Archidona (near Málaga) was provisionally used as a CIE in order to respond to the increase in sea arrivals.

There have been several developments in 2020 with regard to CIEs:

  • In June 2020 the Ministry of Interior permanently closed the CIE of Tarifa. The facility, which had been operating for 14 years, was regularly subject of complaints by NGOs, environmental organisation and the Spanish Ombudsman due to its poor and inadequate conditions.[7] In October 2020, the Government announced the construction of a new CIE in Algeciras of 500 places, which had started under the previous Government.[8] The CIE should be ready by 2022 and the foreseen budget for its construction is €17,2 million.[9]
  • At the end of 2020 – beginning of 2021, the Government further announced it would renovate the former prison of La Piñera in Algeciras in order to be used as a CIE, with a cost for the reform of €737,620.[10] The Coordinator of the campaign “CIEs NO” in Cádiz regrets the re-opening of the old facility.[11]
  • The NGO Iridía reported that, throughout 2020, it launched one complaint per month to the Supervising Judge as a result of institutional violence being carried at the CIE of Barcelona in violation of the rights of detainees.[12] The NGO further published a report to denouncing the human rights violations taking place during deportation procedures of migrants, including institutional racism and violence.[13]
  • At the end of 2020, the Government announced the plan to install facial recognition at its borders and at the CIEs in 2021.[14]

The Commission of Home Affairs at the Senate asked the Government to publish an annual report on the situation of the CIEs and the CETIs, providing information inter alia on detainees and residents, human and material resources, and the number of officers in charge of the protection of migrants.[15] Moreover, during its 9th Annual Meeting, the national campaign for the closure of CIEs and for stopping deportations asked for the immediate release of persons from CIEs and CATEs. They highlighted the deterioration of the situation of detained migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, the systematic detention of vulnerable persons, as well as the lack of legal assistance in all CIEs.[16]

As regards deportations, an important decision was issued by the CJEU in October 2020. The Court ruled that, in light of the Immigration Law, Spain cannot expel migrants just for being undocumented, and that expulsion should be carried out only when aggravating circumstances exist.[17] A report documenting human rights violations during deportation procedures published on October 2020 further highlighted that between 2010 and 2019, Spain had deported 223,463 persons, with an important increase since 2017.[18] In light of the increase of deportations, Iridía and other organisations asked for the establishment of a judge supervising deportations.[19]

In December 2020, the Jesuit Migrant Service expressed its concern to the Ministry of Interior in relation to the lack of measures or relevant protocol to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in migration detention.[20] A report published by Migreurop denounces that migration detention practices in some European countries (including Spain) are at the margin between legality and illegality, and that de facto detention practices have increased, including in the context of CATEs in Spain.[21]

Asylum seekers may also be de facto detained in “areas of rejection at borders” (Salas de Inadmisión de fronteras) at international airports and ports for a maximum of 8 days, until a decision is taken on their right to enter the territory. A total of 1.704 persons applied at a border post or transit zone in 2020.[22]

It should be further noted that, following a parliamentary request initiated by the Senator of the political party Compromís, the Government reported that, from 2010 to 2019, 6 migrants died while in detention in Spain.[23]



[1] Fiscalía General del Estado, Memoria de la Fiscalía 2019, September 2020, available in Spanish at:

[2] Ministry of Interior, Avance de solicitudes de protección internacional: Datos provisionales acumulados entre el 1 de enero y el 31 de diciembre de 2019, available in Spanish at:

[3] Articles 60(4) and 62(5) Aliens Act.

[4]  El Diario, Varios activistas rifeños perseguidos por Marruecos, encerrados en el CIE de Murcia: “Hui de la cárcel para acabar aquí”, 28 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[5] Público, ‘Ocho activistas rifeños salen del CIE de Murcia tras aceptarse su petición de asilo’, 5 February 2021, available in Spanish at:

[6] Universitá Di tornio et al., ‘Report on European pre-removal detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemi, Specific view on the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK’, October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[7]  El Diario, Adiós a la “isla de los valientes”: Interior cierra el controvertido CIE de Tarifa tras 14 años de denuncias por su estado, 24 June 2020, available at:; Europa Sur, Interior cierra definitivamente el CIE de Tarifa, 23 June 2020, available in Spanish at:

[8] Europa Sur, ‘La Junta concede la autorización ambiental al proyecto del nuevo CIE de Algeciras’, 6 October 2020, available in Sapnish at:

[9] La Voz de Cádiz, Avanzan los trámites para construir el nuevo CIE de Algeciras, 18 October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[10] Europasur, ‘El Gobierno prepara la antigua cárcel de Algeciras para volver a abrirla como CIE’, 2 November 2020, available in Spanish at:; Sevilla-ABC, Interior reabre el desvencijado CIE de Algeciras tras gastar más de un millón en reformas, 23 January 2021, available in Spanish at:; Andalucía Información, El CIE de Algeciras vuelve a albergar internos desde el pasado miércoles, 22 May 2021, available in Spanish at:

[11] Algeciras al minuto, La Coordinadora ‘Cies No’ lamenta la reapertura del actual Centro de Internamiento de Algeciras, 22 January 2021, available in Spanish at:

[12] Iridía, ‘Irídia ha presentat una denúncia al mes per violència institucional en el CIE durant 2020’, 17 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[13] Irídia, «Vulneraciones de derechos humanos en las deportaciones», 7 October 2020, available in Spanish at:

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

[15] Europapress, ‘El Senado reclama al Gobierno un informe anual sobre el estado de los CIE y CETI’, 1 October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[16]  Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía – APDHA, IX Encuentro anual de la Campaña estatal por el cierre de los CIE y el fin de las deportaciones, 9 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[17] Court of Justice of the European Union, Case C‑568/19, Judgement 8 October 2020, available at:; El País, ‘Una sentencia europea impide a España expulsar inmigrantes solo por estar en situación irregular’, 13 November 2020, available in Spanish at:

[18] Iridía and Novact, ‘Vulneraciones de los derechos humanos en las deportaciones’, October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[19] Cope, ‘Entidades reclaman un juzgado que supervise las deportaciones de migrantes’, 7 October 2020, available in Spanish at:

[20] Europapress, ‘El Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes advierte de que los CIE siguen sin protocolos frente a la pandemi’a, 4 December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[21] Migreurop, “Locked up and excluded, Informal and illegal detention in Spain, Greece, Italy and Germany”, December 2020, available in Spanish at:

[22] Ministry of Interior, Avance de solicitudes y propuestas de resolución de protección internacional: Datos provisionales acumulados entre el 1 de enero y el 31 de diciembre de 2020, available in Spanish at:

[23] El Periódico de aquí, ‘Seis migrantes han muerto en los CIE en los últimos 10 años uno en València’, 4 September 2020, 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