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


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

Immigration detention in Spain: 2015-2019







Total detentions ordered






Source: SJM.


Persons already in asylum proceedings 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. In 2019, 2,164 persons applied for asylum from CIE.[1]

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 of 1,589 places, 116 of which are for women. 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 the increase in sea arrivals.

There have been several developments with regard to CIE. In July 2019, the CIE of Sagonera La Verde in Murcia has been provisionally closed, because of the malfunction of the refrigeration system, thus affecting the wellbeing and health of detained migrants.[2] However, the Government reopened the CIE of Barranco Seco in Gran Canaria on 27 November 2019,[3] and has announced the reopening of the CIE of El Matorral in Fuerteventura (on the Canary Islands) due to the increase of boat arrivals on the islands during 2019 (2,600 persons).[4] The latter is thus likely to re-open in 2020.

These centres are 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.

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 7,020 persons applied at a border post or transit zone in 2019.[5]

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.[6]

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.


[1] 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:

[2]  Convivir sin Racismo, ‘Se cierra de forma provisional el centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros de Sangonera la Verde de Murcia, 26 July 2019’, available in Spanish at:

[3]  El Salto Diario, ‘Canarias se convierte en la comunidad con más CIE con la reapertura de dos centros’, 3 January 2020, available in Spanish at:

[4] Canarias7, ‘Interior reabrirá el CIE de El Matorral para acoger inmigrantes’, 31 December 2019, available in Spanish at:

[5] 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:

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


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