Overview of the main changes since the previous report update


Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 30/11/20


The report was last updated in March 2019.


Asylum procedure


  • Access to territory: Access to the territory remains a serious issue in Spain. There are several reported cases concerning refusal of entry, refoulement, collective expulsions and push backs, including incidents involving up to several hundred persons during 2019. As a result, asylum applicants resort to dangerous practices and put their lives at risk to access the territory. Moreover, in the last months of 2019, the Canary Islands recorded a significant increase of sea arrivals again. Out of the total of 26,168 persons who arrived to Spain by sea in 2019, 2,698 disembarked on the Islands.[1] The trend was confirmed in early 2020.


  • Refoulement and returns of asylum applicants: In February 2020 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) published its judgment in the case of N.D and N.T v Spain concerning the immediate return of two Sub-Saharan migrants to Morocco after attempting to cross the border of the Melilla enclave.[2] The Court did not consider that the State had failed to provide a genuine and effective access to means of legal entry, and concluded that the applicants had in fact placed themselves in jeopardy by participating in storming the border rather than using the existing procedures. The decision has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations and other several stakeholders, who saw a lost opportunity in condemning the Spanish authorities for their pushback practices at the border.


  • Lack of coordination amongst asylum authorities: On the 2019 World Refugee Day, the Spanish Ombudsman called for improvements in the coordination among the institutions competent in the field of international protection, as the sharing of competences between the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration requires urgent action.[3] The Ombudsman demonstrated in its 2018 Annual Report that the vast majority of asylum applicants face difficulties in accessing both the asylum procedure and reception conditions,[4] which remains a persisting issue.


  • Reform limiting the right to asylum: The Spanish Government announced in February 2020 that it is drafting a new asylum law introducing restrictions to the right to asylum, albeit in line with European Union (EU) standards. The proposed amendments include the possibility to introduce a deadline for the lodging of an application for international protection, as well as a 10-days deadline for the lodging of an application from Detention Centres for Foreigners (CIEs).[5]


  • Average processing times and backlog of cases: The average time for lodging and examining applications for international protection as well as the backlog of cases have both increased in Spain. The duration of the asylum procedure varies significantly depending on the nationality of applicants and can last for 3 months to 2 years, and even up to 3 years in exceptional cases.


  • Quality of the procedure: Several actors continued to raise concerns as regards the quality of the procedure. A platform of 15 NGOs (PlatRefugio) conducted an assessment of the Spanish asylum system in view of the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council that will involve Spain in 2020.[6] The report denounces the lack of legal certainty due to the absence of a regulation of the Asylum Act, the practice of push-backs hindering the access to the procedure, the length of the asylum procedure and the fact that key rights are not guaranteed in practice (i.e. the right to information, to an interpreter, to reception, to privacy etc.). Other actors have also criticised the rigidity of the asylum system and its inability to adapt to the evolving situation.[7]


  • Admissibility procedure: Since mid-2019, the admissibility procedure is no longer applied in practice, because the 1-month deadline to decide on the admissibility of the asylum claim can no longer be complied with in practice following the increase of asylum applications. Thus, asylum seekers are documented with the “white paper” during the first 6 months, instead of being documented with the red card after 1 month.


  • Border procedure: In 2019, the Government applied the border procedure for the first time to asylum seekers who had jumped over the fence of the Spanish enclaves. The Asylum Law foresees the application of the border procedure to asylum claims lodged at airports, maritime ports, land borders and expulsion centers (CIE), but it had never been applied before in such a situation.


  • Identification of vulnerable applicants in asylum procedures: Despite the adoption of different legal instruments, major shortcomings persisted during 2019 regarding the identification of victims of human trafficking. A report published by Accem in November 2019 underlines that the identification of trafficked persons is one of the main challenges existing in Spain, as the current procedure relies inter alia on the auto-identification of the victim as well as on his or her collaboration to the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime.[8]


  • Registration of unaccompanied children: In March 2019, the National Court ruled that the conditions for the registration of Spanish children at municipalities must be equally applied to foreign children.[9] The Ombudsman has also raised concerns in June 2019 regarding the inaccuracy of the register of unaccompanied minors and highlighted the deficiencies resulting from age assessment procedures, in particular regarding girls.[10]


Reception conditions


  • Lack of reception capacity and homelessness: Major shortcomings in the reception system have been registered during 2019 and heavily criticised by NGOs, the Spanish Ombudsman and several other stakeholders. This raises serious human rights concerns, as it often results in destitution and homelessness, including for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children.  


  • Identification of vulnerable applicants in reception: In order to improve the identification and referral of trafficked persons at the Madrid Barajas Airport, a specific procedure has been adopted in October 2019 by the Directorate-General for Integration and Humanitarian Assistance of the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. The new procedure foresees a collaboration framework with five NGOs working in the asylum reception system so as to enhance the detection of and assistance to trafficked persons. The aim is to foster and guarantee a swift access to adequate support services, prior to and independently from their formal identification as victims of human trafficking.[11]


  • Accommodation of unaccompanied children: The situation of reception of unaccompanied migrant children in Melilla did not improve in 2019. A report submitted by the Treasury Office of the Government of Melilla to the Public prosecutor for Children refers to the “humanitarian catastrophe” resulting from the living conditions in the centre La Purísima. The report states that the conditions of the centre violate the children’s dignity and ignore their basic needs; thus putting their life at risk.[12]


Detention of asylum seekers


  • Detention conditions: Serious concerns as regards detention conditions and incidents within CIEs persisted throughout 2019. Even though CIEs do not have the status of prisons, the reality in practice suggests otherwise and conditions of detention therein are still not satisfactory. CIEs have been subject to high public scrutiny and have attracted media and NGO attention during 2019 due to several incidents documented throughout the year.


  • Conditions in transit zone: Following an unannounced visit carried out in March 2019 by the Spanish Ombudsman at the Madrid Barajas Airport, the latter raised serious concerns about the deplorable conditions of the transit zone. This includes inter alia a lack of space for asylum seekers which does not comply with the required minimum standards, the lack of hot water, the lack of access to daylight as well as the lack of medical services and medicine.[13]


Content of international protection


  • Residence permits for Venezuelans: On 5 March 2019, the Inter-Ministerial Commission of Asylum (CIAR) introduced a policy granting one-year renewable residence permits “on humanitarian grounds of international protection” to Venezuelan nationals whose asylum applications have been rejected between January 2014 and February 2019. As a result, a total of 35,130 humanitarian status were granted within a single year to Venezuelans, thus exceeding by far the number of refugee status. Only 50 Venezuelans were granted a refugee status in Spain in 2019 according to Eurostat statistics.


[1] Ministry of Interior, Immigración Irregular 2019, available in Spanis at: https://cutt.ly/orB85ib; UNHCR, Spain – Sea and Land Arrivals, January-December 2018 Ministry of Interior, Inmigración irregular – Informe Quincenal – Datos acumulados del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembre de 2018, December 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2F7lEhX.

[2] ECtHR, Grand Chamber, Case of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, Applications nos. 8675/15 and 8697/15’, 13 February 2020, available at: https://cutt.ly/NrB68Fx.

[3]Spanish Ombudsman, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo reclama mejoras en la coordinación entre administraciones con competencias en materia de protección internacional’, 20 June 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/qttyf5n.

[4] Spanish Ombudsman, ‘Informe anual 2018. Actividades y actuaciones llevadas a cabo a lo largo del año 2018’, 11 June 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/ftTy9fC.

[5] El País, ‘España endurecerá el derecho al asilo’, 19 February 2020, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/GtwAL0U.  

[6]El Salto, ‘El Estado español incumple sus compromisos en materia de protección internacional’, 17 November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/JtYbtHm; El País, ‘Los derechos de los refugiados en España, a examen’, 14 November 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/BtYbdpe; Info Libre, ‘El sistema de acogida en España, una carrera de obstáculos’, 14 November 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/KtYbxZJ.

[7] CIDOB, ‘Ser o no ser. Deficiencias del sistema estatal de acogida’, March 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/NtUPbqA.

[8] Laura Carrillo Palacios and Teresa De Gasperis (Accem), ‘La otra cara de la trata’, November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/htwIdsc. See also: CEAR-Euskadi, ‘Retos en el avance hacia una protección de las mujeres y niñas en situación de trata en Euskadi desde un enfoque de protección internacional’, June 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/htegGrh.

[9] Audiencia Nacional, ‘Sala de lo Contencioso-Administrativo, Sección Séptima, nº recurso 770/2017’, 28 December 2018, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/brc1ryQ.

[10]Europa Press, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo avisa de que "la inexactitud" del registro menores extranjeros solos "invisibiliza" a las niñas’, 17 July 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/arc1MTP.

[11] Ministerio de Trabajo, Migraciones y Seguridad Social, ‘El Gobierno pone en marcha un procedimiento de derivación de potenciales víctimas de trata de seres humanos en el aeropuerto de Barajas’, 15 October 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Xe79s1H.

[12] Huffingtonpost, ‘Melilla lleva ante la Fiscalía la “catástrofe humanitaria” del centro de menores La Purísima’, 31 December 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/DriQEnf.

[13]  Cadena Ser, ‘Sin agua caliente y sin medicinas, así son tratados los solicitantes de asilo en Barajas’, 4 April 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Ne72xnd.


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