Country Report: General Last updated: 21/04/22


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

Immigration detention in Spain: 2015-2020  
Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Total of persons in detention 6,930 7,597 8,814 7,855 6,473 2,224

Source: Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes – SJM, Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, ‘Informe CIE 2020 – Razón jurídica y sinrazón política – Explotación de datos estadísticos del Ministerio del Interior’, 4 June 2021, available at:


According to the 2020 Annual report of the Spanish Ombudsman in its capacity as National Prevention Mechanism of Torture, a total of 3,738 repatriations were carried out in 2020, being Morocco and Algeria the top 2 countries of origin of migrants detained and repatriated.[1] Figures on detention and repatriation during the year 2021 will only be made available later in 2022.

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 2021, 639 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. 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] At the end of January 2021, the political party Unidas Podemos asked the Minister of Interior to give a parliamentary explanation, to assess if all the necessary measures to guarantee the rights of those 16 persons had been taken.[5] In February 2021, 8 of them were released from the CIE, as their applications for international protection were admitted.[6]

In Spain there are 7 CIEs which are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior. These facilities are located in Algeciras, Barcelona, Las Palmas, Madrid, Murcia, Tenerife, and Valencia, making up a total capacity of 1,288 places, according to available information.[7] It has to be noted that the total capacity can vary according to possible improvements’ works, temporary closures, maintenance works, etc. 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 and 2021 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 the subject of from complaints NGOs, environmental organisation and the Spanish Ombudsman due to its poor and inadequate conditions;[8]
  • In October 2020, the Government announced the construction of a new CIE in Algeciras with a capacity of 500 places, which had started under the previous Government.[9] The facility should be opened in 2022; the foreseen budget for its construction is €17,2 million.[10] According to available information, the new CIE will count with 500 places and occupy an area of 20,000 square meters, with an investment of 21 million Euros of the Minister of Interior.[11] It will be the biggest in Spain[12]. The NGO Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía – ADPHA the inutility and inhumanity of the facility, by underling that in 2019 just 173 migrants were detained and repatriated from the CIE in Algeciras (which corresponds to the 4.6% of the total migrants repatriated)[13]. The political party Podemos took a stance against the construction of the new facility and against CIEs in general[14]. In occasion of the International Migrant Day the Coordinator CIEsNo marched from the old to the new CIE, to protest against such inhuman facilities and the Spanish migration policy;[15]
  • At the end of 2020, the Government further announced it would renovate the former prison of La Piñera in Algeciras so that it could be used as a CIE, at a cost of €737,620;[16] preliminary renovation works started in May 2021.[17] The Coordinator of the campaign “CIEs NO” in Cádiz criticised the new opening of the old facility, while requesting the Government to allocate the funds to other initiatives in the province;[18]
  • The NGO Iridía reported having lodged a complaint per month throughout 2020 to the local Supervising Judge, as a result of institutional violence carried at the CIE of Barcelona in violation of the rights of detainees.[19] The NGO further published a report to denouncing the human rights violations taking place during deportation procedures of migrants, including institutional racism and violence;[20]
  • At the end of 2020, the Government announced the plan to install facial recognition at its borders and at the CIEs in 2021.[21] A pilot project on facial recognition has been implemented during 2021 at the Spanish border with Gibraltar.[22] In addition, the instalment of such system started at the Spanish borders of Ceuta and Melilla with Morocco, with a budget of 4,1 million Euros. In view of the re-opening of the Moroccan air and land borders on 7 February 2022, more than 40 organisations warned that the use of artificial intelligence can produce discrimination and human rights violations;[23]
  • In a report published in March 2021, the NGO Irídia included information on six complaints it has lodged regarding allegations of violence used by police officers towards inmates at CIE in 2020;[24]
  • In mid-July 2021, the CIE of Zapadores in Valencia re-opened after being closed for one year due the pandemic; it will accommodate also the inmates at the CIE of Murcia, temporarily closed due to renovations;[25]
  • The intention of Government is also to build two new CIEs in the provinces of Málaga and Madrid in the future;[26]
  • The former CIE of El Matorral in Fuerteventura, closed in 2018 after being left unused for the 6 previous years, was reopened in 2021, but was used as reception centre for migrants under the management of the Spanish Red Cross. It was closed a second time, while the Minister of Interior announced that the facility will be reopened in part as a CIE and in part as a CATE;[27]
  • One year after the signature of the renovation contract of the CIE of Hoya Fría in Tenerife, in October 2021 the works still had to start;[28]

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.[29] 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.[30]

On 20 October 2020, the National Ombudsperson expressed concern over the conditions at facilities where migrants are deprived of liberty. At the Centres for Temporary Attention for Foreigners (Centros de Atención Temporal de Extranjeros, CATE) deficiencies relate to overcrowding, the presence of mothers with children and of sick people, and insufficient guarantees to access asylum. Concerning the Detention Centres for Foreigners (Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros, CIE), recommendations recurring in several centres relate to the availability of medical care, interpretation, legal and social assistance, possibility to communicate with lawyers, access by NGOs, video surveillance and the registration of the use of coercive measures.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33] In light of the increase of deportations, Iridía and other organisations asked for the establishment of a judge supervising deportations.[34]

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.[35] 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.[36]

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 1,589 persons applied at a border post or transit zone in 2021.[37]

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.[38]




[1] Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura, Defensor del Pueblo, ‘Informe Anual 2020. Anexo B – Datos estadísticos de interés para la privación de libertad de media duración. Centros de internamiento de extranjeros’, July 2021, available 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 2021, 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] Tercera Información, ‘Unidas Podemos pregunta en el Congreso a Interior si cumple con todos los protocolos al internar en un CIE de Murcia a 16 solicitantes de asilo del Rif’, 29 January 2021, available at:

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

[7] Ministerio de Inclusión, Seguridad Social y Migraciones, ‘Marco Estratégico de Redacción del Programa Nacional de España en El Fondo De Asilo, Migración e Integración para el periodo 2021-2027’, 2021, available at:, 39.

[8] 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:

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

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

[11] Europasur, ‘Comienzan los movimientos de tierra para la construcción del nuevo CIE en Algeciras’, 14.6.21, available at:; ABC Andalucía, ‘Así será el nuevo Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros de Algeciras’, 8 August 2021, available at:

[12] El País, ‘España apuesta por los CIE y las expulsiones exprés’, 29 July 2021, available at: 

[13] Europasur, ‘La Apdha denuncia la “inutilidad e inhumanidad” del CIE de Algeciras’, 5 July 2021, available at:

[14] Noticias de Sevilla, ‘Podemos se posiciona contra los Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros’, 26 July 2021, available at:

[15] Europa Sur, ‘La Coordinadora CIES No marcha en Algeciras del viejo al nuevo centro en el Día Internacional del Migrante’, 18 December 2021, available at:

[16] 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:

[17] Europasur, ‘Comienzan los trabajos previos para la construcción del nuevo CIE en Botafuegos’, 25 May 2021, available at:

[18] Europasur, ‘’CIEs No’ lamenta el inicio de las obras del nuevo CIE de Algeciras’, 27 May 2021, available at:

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

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

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

[22] Nius Diario, ‘Pasando la aduana por la cara: España ensaya en Gibraltar el nuevo sistema europeo de control’, 6 September 2021, available at:

[23] El Periódico, ‘Expertos denuncian el plan del Gobierno para usar cámaras de reconocimiento facial en la frontera de Ceuta y Melilla’, 13 January 2021, available at:

[24] Irídia, ‘Informe sobre violencia institucional en 2020’, February 2021, available at:

[25] Levante, ‘El CIE de Zapadores volverá a abrir antes del 15 de julio, 2 July 2021, available at:

[26] Ministerio de Inclusión, Seguridad Social y Migraciones, ‘Marco Estratégico de Redacción del Programa Nacional de España en El Fondo De Asilo, Migración e Integración para el periodo 2021-2027’, 2021, available at:, 40.

[27] Radio sintonía, ‘Cierra el antiguo CIE de El Matorral’, 25 November 2021, available at:; Diario Fuerteventura, ‘El campamento de inmigrantes de El Matorral cerrará a finales de noviembre’, 26 November 2021, available at:

[28] El Día, ‘La reforma del CIE de Hoya Fría no ‘arranca’ un año después de la firma del contrato’, 20 October 2021, available at:

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

[30] 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:

[31]  European Uinon Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), ‘Migration: key fundamental rights concerns – 1.10.2020-31.12.2020. Quarterly Bulletin”, February 2021, available at:, 23.

[32] 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:

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

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

[35] 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:

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

[37] 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 2021, available in Spanish at:

[38] 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