Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 25/03/21
The last version of this report was updated in April 2020.
- Consequences of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: Following the COVID-19 outbreak and the declaration of the State of Alarm in Spain from mid-March until beginning of May 2020, asylum interviews as well as the activities of the Inter-Ministerial Commission of Asylum (CIAR) were suspended. This increased delays in the procedure and at registration stage. The caseworkers of the Office of Asylum and Refuge (OAR) continued to work remotely on the processing of asylum cases. The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on irregular arrivals was also temporary: since August 2020, the number of arrivals to Spain was consistently greater than in 2019. In 2020, a total of 41,861 persons arrived in Spain and 88,762 lodged an application for international protection.
- Access to the territory and pushbacks: Important obstacles in accessing the territory continued to be reported throughout 2020, in particular at the Ceuta and Melilla border points. This is due inter alia to the strengthening of border controls, in particular on the Moroccan side of the border where violent police practices are being reported, as well as readmission agreements with third countries. As a result, migrants and potential asylum seekers are denied access to the Spanish territory and subsequently to the asylum procedure, resulting inter alia in pushbacks, collective expulsions and a series of tragic incidents at border points.
- Situation on the Canary Islands: Arrivals by sea in Spain, and in particular on the Canary Islands, doubled from 20,103 persons in 2019 to 40,106 persons in 2020. This puts an important pressure on the asylum authorities and further affects both the Spanish asylum and reception system. Important shortcomings are reported in particular regarding the right to legal assistance, as individuals arriving by sea are being held in detention for up to 72 hours with no access to legal assistance, information and interpretation. In practice, persons have been held in detention for longer periods than the legal time limit foreseen. This raises serious human rights concerns and is in clear violation of national law. In addition, many migrants have been subject to expulsion procedure and repatriated.
- Asylum at embassies and consulates: Through a landmark judgement of 15 October 2020, the Supreme Court recognised the right to asylum at embassies and consulates – a right that was already foreseen by the 2009 Asylum Act but not applied in practice. This puts an end to previous disputes on the matter, although it remains to be seen if the decision will be effectively implemented in practice.
- Vulnerable groups: Major shortcomings in the identification of vulnerabilities continue to be reported, in particular for victims of human trafficking. As a result, adequate needs are not being provided throughout the asylum procedure. Unaccompanied minors further continue to be systematically subject to dysfunctional age assessment procedures, which were further heavily delayed in the Canary Islands during 2020 because of a lack of staff and resources. Pending their age assessment procedures, children are accommodated in inadequate reception centres for adults. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child continued to sanction Spain for its age assessment procedures.
- Three-phase reception system: In January 2021, the SEM adopted a new Instruction which foresees that only beneficiaries of international protection will be allowed to access the second (and last) phase of the reception system, known as the “preparation for autonomy phase” (Fase de preparación para la autonomía). It remains to be seen how this will be implemented in practice and whether it will enable to address the shortcomings in the reception system and further foster integration of beneficiaries of international protection.
- Conditions in reception centres: Living conditions in the CETI at the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves and on the Canary Islands are a persistent matter of concern. In light of the situation of overcrowding and the inadequate reception conditions, major organisations ranging from UN bodies, the Council of Europe, the Spanish Ombudsman or NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, called upon the Government to transfer the individuals to the mainland and to swiftly adopt reception solutions.
- Homelessness: The delays in accessing the asylum procedure, the persistent situation of overcrowding, the consequences of the State of Alarm during COVID-19 and the lack of transfers to the mainland have resulted in numerous cases of destitution and homelessness, forcing asylum seekers so spend several nights on the street. In October 2020, the Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration reported that there were around 8,000 asylum seekers waiting to be assigned a reception place.
- Vulnerable groups in reception centres: As a result of a lack of identification of vulnerabilities, vulnerable groups continue to be at risk in reception centres, in particular unaccompanied minors. Moreover, the antimigration discourse of certain media and political groups enhances a climate of hate against migrants and asylum seekers, resulting in discrimination and racist aggressions.
- Freedom of movement: In two landmark decisions issued in July 2020, the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) concluded that neither domestic nor EU law contain any provisions that justify limiting asylum seekers’ right to move freely across Spanish territory. This was confirmed again by another decision of the Supreme Court in February 2021. In practice, however, transfers to the mainland from Ceuta and Melilla, as well as from the Canary Islands, continued to be restricted up until the beginning of 2021. Several actors, including the Spanish Ombudsman, recalled the Ministry of Interiors’ legal duty to recognise asylum seekers’ right to move freely.
- EASO Operation: In light of the major shortcomings in the Spanish reception system, EASO announced in December 2020 that it was launching a new operation plan aiming to support the Spanish authorities in developing and implementing a new model for the reception of asylum seekers.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Impact of COVID-19 on detention: As a result of COVID-19, the high number of detainees and the impossibilities to implement sanitary measures, Detention Centres for Foreigners (CIEs) were closed for several months from March to September 2020. During that period, individuals were accommodated in reception centres. Despite strong advocacy from several stakeholders to take this opportunity to definitely close CIEs given the important shortcomings and consistent human rights violations occurring in such centres, the Government started to re-open CIEs as of September 2020. New CIEs will further be constructed and opened in 2021.
- Detention conditions: The living conditions in detention centres, in particular CIEs, continue to be a serious matter of concern, resulting in riots, hunger strikes, self-harm, protests and related incidents across the Spanish territory. Civil society organisations but also several instruction judges voiced strong criticism and opposition to CIEs in light of the poor conditions for and degrading treatment of detainees. Concerns were also raised regarding the inadequacy of these facilities with COVID-19.
Content of international protection
- Regularisation of migrants: Despite strong advocacy efforts and a nation-wide campaign, the proposition to regularise more than 600,000 migrants in Spain was rejected by the Congress. It was reported that a regularisation process of all migrants in Spain would allow the Government to save €1,500 million per year.
- Access to education: As in previous years, children of migrants, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection continue to face obstacles in accessing education. This seems to be due to bureaucratic hurdles but also because of institutional racism. In February 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights on the Child urged the Spanish authorities to adopt measures for the immediate access of a girl to education in Melilla. Similarly, towards the end of 2020, the Spanish Ombudsman called upon the Ministry of Education to immediately provide schooling to three children in Melilla.
- Status of resettled refugees: In an important ruling of December 2020, the High Court (Tribunal Supremo) established that refugees resettled in Spain must keep their status as refugees. It therefore reverts the decision adopted by the previous judge which denied the refugee status to four Syrian refugees resettled to Spain in 2015, by granting them subsidiary protection.