While the increase in arrivals of asylum seekers throughout 2018 and 2019 has exacerbated difficulties in accessing reception, the actual conditions in reception facilities have not deteriorated since reception capacity was increased. The problem asylum seekers face on some occasions is the long waiting time before they can be placed in accommodation facilities.
Conditions in CAR and NGO accommodation
The majority of available places for asylum seekers in Spain are in reception centres, during the first phase of reception, which lasts for a maximum of 6 months. As stressed, during the second phase they are placed in private housing, as the final aim is their autonomy within the Spanish society.
In general, there have not been reports of bad conditions of reception. In fact, there are no registered protests or strikes by applicants. Unless they are placed in private housing, asylum seekers are not able to cook by themselves during the first phase of reception, as meals are managed by the authority in charge of the centre.
Hosted applicants have access to several types of activities, which may vary from trainings or leisure programmes. In general, particular conditions or facilities within the reception centre depend on the authority managing the reception places. As the majority of centres are managed by specialised NGOs, generally the staff that works with asylum seekers during their reception is trained and specialised.
The accommodation of every asylum seeker is decided on case by case basis, in order to prevent tensions or conflicts (such as nationality or religious based potential situations), vulnerability or violence. Single women for example are usually placed in female-only apartments, while the same happens for single men. In this context, the unity of families is also respected, as family members are placed together.
The usual length of stay for asylum seekers inside the reception facilities is the maximum stay admitted, which is 18 months, extendable to 24 months for vulnerable persons. This is due to the fact that the system is divided into 3 main phases that gradually prepare the person to live autonomously in the hosting society.
Conditions in CETI
Overcrowding in the CETI in Ceuta and Melilla is a serious issue that has persisted in recent years, resulting in poor or substandard reception conditions for asylum seekers and migrants.
The two CETI are reception facilities that receive the most criticism from organisations and institutions that monitor migrants’ and refugees’ rights, starting from 2016. Accommodation standards were described as inadequate and concerns were expressed regarding the exposure of women and children to violence and exploitation due to the continuous overcrowding have been highlighted. In light of this, the Council of Europe Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees expressed the necessity for the Spanish authorities to “ensure that CETIs in Ceuta and Melilla have the same standards in terms of living conditions, education, health care, language and training courses which asylum-seekers are entitled to and receive in mainland Spain”. In 2020, IOM and UNHCR asked the Spanish authorities for an urgent coordinated response to the reception conditions at the CETI of Melilla, that they qualified as “alarming”. Both organisations recommend to adopt a rapid assessment procedure and adequate measures which would facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers to the mainland, voluntary return, family reunification etc. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights also urged the Spanish authorities to find alternatives to accommodation for migrants and asylum seekers living in substandard conditions in Melilla. In his 2020 annual report, the Spanish Ombudsman indicated that, in April 2020, the CETI of Melilla was accommodating more than 1,600 migrants, despite counting just 800 places. In its World Report 2021, Human Rights Watch expresses the same concerns on overcrowding at the CETI in Melilla and at a temporary shelter set up in a local bullring.
The continuous problems of overcrowding especially at the CETI of Melilla worsened in 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many stakeholders, including the Spanish Ombudsman, have been asking the Minister of Interior to increase transfers to mainland, in order to relieve the centres.
Despite the transfers of vulnerable persons to mainland being carried out, following – among others – the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the situation was far from being resolved.
In its 2020/2021 annual report on the situation of human rights worldwide, Amnesty International highlighted the continuous problems of overcrowding at the CETI of Melilla, as well as the use of facilities not in line with international standards. Because of this, the organisation launched a campaign to call for the urgent transfer of vulnerable persons to other reception facilities located on the mainland, aiming at guaranteeing decent reception and health conditions.
A policy note published by ECRE in July 2021, underlines that the CETIs are systematically overcrowded, present poor sanitary conditions, and health services, and that they are not adequate to accommodate families and vulnerable persons. These circumstances have worsened following the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of July 2021, the number of residents at the CETI of Melilla was 877 (mostly from Tunisia and Egypt). For the first time since 2017, it did not surpass the threshold of 1,000 hosts, but still surpasses the actual capacity of the facility. During 2022 and at the beginning of 2023, the facilities registered very low numbers of residents, it seems it is due to the increase of transfers of asylum applicants to mainland following the decision of the High Court in 2020 (See Freedom of movement).
It can be noted that, on top of overcrowding, CETIs do not provide satisfactory conditions for family units and overall for families with minors. As a result, families are separated and children stay with only one of their parents. In both centres, the shortage of interpreters and psychologists has also been criticised.
Conditions in other reception facilities
Living conditions on the Canary Islands
In the last years, many challenges in providing adequate reception conditions to migrants and asylum seekers continued to be reported in particular on the Canary Islands. This is due to the significant increase of arrivals as described in Arrivals by sea, but also because of the overall lack of reception facilities and the deficient humanitarian assistance system on the Canary Islands. Thus, already in 2020, different temporary reception options have been adopted on an ad hoc basis, such as encampments, hotels, using parts of the CIE as reception facility, or using buildings belonging to the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs for the purpose COVID-19 quarantine.
The encampment at the dock of Arguineguín (Gran Canaria), created impromptu in August 2020 to address the increase of arrivals and to provide temporary reception to 400 persons, ended up hosting up to 2,600 persons. The deplorable living conditions were also denounced, with migrants sleeping on blankets in the open, without the possibility of changing clothes and with no access to showers – in some cases, persons could not access showers for more than 20 days.
After the calls for its closure by different humans rights organisations and institutions, the Arguineguín encampment was finally dismantled at the end of November 2020 and newcomers were brought to a new encampment, located at a military site in Barranco Seco (Gran Canaria). In January 2022, the Provincial Court of Las Palmas ruled on the case lodged against the inhumane treatment of migrants at the Arguineguín camp. Despite acknowledging the terrible conditions of the encampment, the judge considers that the situation was not caused by a voluntary action of the authorities to violate migrants’ rights. The NGO CEAR condemned the decision, in arguing that human rights violations should always be recognised as such.
Already in 2020, many stakeholders, such as the Spanish Ombudsman or the NGO CEAR, repeatedly called upon the authorities to transfer migrants and asylum seekers from the Canary Islands to appropriate reception facilities on the mainland. The deterrence policy followed by the Government on the Canary Islands is similar to the one applied in Ceuta and Melilla, whereby only a minority of transfers are carry out to mainland.
In his 2022 Annual Report, the Ombudsman warned about the deficiencies of some reception facilities for women with children arriving by boat to the Canary Islands, which resulted in the lack of identification of their needs, as well as of cases of international protection, trafficking, rapes, FGM, etc.
In mid-January 2021, the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration announced the opening of a new reception facility at the former military regiment Canarias 50, with a reception capacity of 442 places. This is the second facility that is foreseen by the Government’s Canarias Plan, which aims to create a total of 7,000 reception places. Doctors of the World warned that the new facilities that the Government plans to build on the Canary Islands are likely to replicate the situation of the Arguineguín dock.
Since the end of 2020, different NGOs started to open reception facilities on the Canary Islands under the humanitarian programme funded by the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. Accem opened a reception facility in Tenerife under the humanitarian programme and within the Plan Canarias. It was initially planned that the facility would count 2,400 places, but it finally was created with 1,500 places, and employing 220 professionals. The organisation provides a comprehensive assistance to migrants (i.e. legal support, psychological assistance, interpretation, health assistance, etc.). The centre hosts solely men, the vast majority coming from Morocco and Senegal. In November 2021, Accem opened also an emergency humanitarian assistance and referral centre in Lanzarote with 1,000 places, within the Plan Canarias and from August 2021 it started to manage four flats with a total of 18 places in Tenerife within the programme for the humanitarian assistance of migrants. The flats host women and women with children.
The Fundación Cruz Blanca opened one centre in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with 140 places for women and mothers with underage children, and another facility with a capacity of 400 places for men. The latter was closed at the end of December 2022, while the facility for women will be closed in June 2023. The organisation Fundación Cruz Blanca, which is specialised in the assistance to trafficked persons, has also opened two centres in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. One centre has 40 places available and aims to provide comprehensive assistance to women and their children presumed to be victims of human trafficking; while the other centre had 25 places and is dedicated to women presumed to be victim of trafficking. As previously mentioned, IOM also started its operations on the Canary Islands at the beginning of 2021, more specifically in Tenerife, where it managed a facility counting with 1,100 reception places (reduced to 1,054 due to the necessity to assure anti COVID-19 measures). The IOM finalised its operation in the archipelago in June 2022.
In April 2021 the Administrative Court (Juzgado de lo Contencioso Administrativo) nº 5 of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria established that a migrant can fly from Canarias to the mainland using his/her passport or asylum application, and that this is compatible with the COVID-19 restrictions measures to movement.
In 2021, Amnesty International denounced that, despite the approval of the Canarias Plan, reception conditions continue to be inadequate. Thanks to the transfers to mainland, at the end of May 2021 the reception facilities at the Canary Islands consistently reduced the numbers of migrants hosted. The organisation also called the Government to take measures in order to guarantee decent reception conditions, as well as access to the asylum procedure, the right to information and to legal assistance, together with fostering transfers of vulnerable persons to mainland. Similarly, in a thematic report published that same year Amnesty International denounced the failure of the migration policy and of the asylum system at the Canary Islands, and alleged that Spanish authorities did not guarantee adequate reception conditions nor access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure to migrants and refugees reaching the archipelago by sea.
The Canary Islands continue to lack the capacity to face the rapid increase in sea arrivals; this negatively impacts also centres for unaccompanied minors, that struggle to provide adequate reception conditions and services. It has been underlined that the emergency approach adopted in dealing with the situation on the islands leads to severe delays in procedures such as age assessment, access to residence permits for children, enrolment in training and vocational courses. Lack of accommodations places targeting ageing out adolescents has caused a great vulnerability of youth migrants when leaving minors protection centres when aging out. Coordination with the other Spanish autonomous communities is needed, and support by the central government is vital to deal with the situation in the long term.
A report published by the Mixed Migration Centre, Save the Children and Médicos del Mundo found that the lack of standardized or comprehensive protocol for managing arrivals and screening often renders children difficult to identify for the authorities. Identification is a challenge as lawyers and interpreters are not systematically present when children arrive, so is common for refugees and migrants not to be properly counselled and informed. In addition, children do not receive adequate information about their rights, including the right to asylum. Furthermore, professionals at the reception centres are not trained to recognize those who could apply for asylum, resulting in a very few asylum requests. Access to specialized psychosocial support for children is also needed, considering the migration route’s difficulty and that many of them have suffered violence on previous migratory phases.
A thematic report published by the organisation Irídia in May 2022 denounced the human rights violations and the discrimination of migrants arriving at the Canary Islands in accessing their rights, as well as the general inadequacy of the reception facilities in terms of infrastructures and precarious conditions.
Moreover, as already mentioned above, the EUAA started to support Spanish asylum authorities, after having agreed upon an operational plan mainly focused on support to reception. This includes providing enhanced capacity to reception services in the Canary Islands. In January 2021, the EUAA carried out a needs’ assessment mission at six sites in the Canary Islands, which have received a high number of persons with international protection needs in recent months. The mission was carried out in order to enable the Agency to tailor its support to the specific needs in the region, and the results were discussed with the State Secretary for Migration of Spain. The Operation Plan on Special Support to reception agreed between the EUAA and Spain foresees a set of areas where the EU agency can support the Spanish Government, including assessing ‘the need for actions in support of emergency reception facilities with a specific focus on the Canary Islands’.
Living conditions in Cañada Real of Madrid
An informal settlement of Cañada Real has been set up in Madrid where many migrants and other persons live. The living conditions are extremely poor and, since the last quarter of 2020, there is no electricity available. This situation affects around 4,600 persons, including 1,800 children, many of them of a young age. The responsible authorities have not taken any measures yet to address this issue.
In December 2020, the Spanish Ombudsman urged the competent authorities to immediately solve the situation, which was worsening due to the cold and bad weather conditions. The seriousness of the situation and the impact on the health of the children was also stressed by different UN Rapporteurs, asking inter alia to stop stigmatising migrants, Roma population and persons living in poverty. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights stated that the poor living conditions faced by families is in violation of the conventions ratified by Spain and further criticised the politicisation of the situation on the Cañada Real, which is a shanty town in the Madrid Region composed of a succession of informal housing. The Special Rapporteur reiterated in February 2021 the breach of international law by Spain in view of its inactivity for the protection of human rights.
The case opened at the end of 2020 against the Autonomous Community of Madrid and Naturgy/Unión Fenosa (the company providing the service) is still ongoing at the time of writing. Detailed information on the issue can be found in the 2020 and 2021 updates of this report.
In December 2021, Amnesty International launched a campaign to collect signatures to request the Autonomous Community of Madrid and the Municipalities of Madrid and of Rivas Vacia-Madrid to urgently act to guarantee electricity and contracts at Cañada Real, where around 4,000 persons (including 1,812 children) are living in dire conditions since they were deprived of electricity.
At the end of October 2022, the Committee on Social Rights of the Council of Europe urged the Spanish Government to restore the electricity in the area, and established a deadline on 15 December for the government to provide information on the measures implemented to comply with such requirement. The day after the expiration, Save the Children reported that national authorities had not respected their commitments.
In December, Save the Children launched the campaign #LUZPARALACAÑADA, with the aim of collecting 60,000 signatures and of asking national and local institutions (i.e. the Spanish Government, the Autonomous Community of Madrid and the Municipality of Madrid) to restore immediately the energy supply, and to double the efforts to unblock the delay of Naturgy in the energy provision. In addition, many persons gathered in from of the Assembly of Madrid to protest against the lack of electricity in the settlement for two years.
Living conditions in other informal settlements
The situation in informal settlements across Spain (especially in Andalucía) continued to be a concern in 2022. Many migrants, asylum seekers/refugees/persons in need of international protection and seasonal migrant workers live in these settlements in poor living conditions and with no access to basic services. Many of them are victims of trafficking, forced labour and forced prostitution.
In March 2022, a fire destroyed between 15 and 20 shacks in the informal settlement of Walili in the Níjar area (Almería), leaving 40 persons without shelter. In April, a person died in a fire in an informal settlement in Lepe (Huelva), while in June another fire destroyed around 100 shacks in an informal settlement in Palos de la Frontera, resulting in a person injured with burns, and in five persons assisted for anxiety attacks. Again, in September another fire destroyed one hectare of shacks in the informal settlement in Palos de la Frontera, without provoking any injured or dead. At the end of December, a fire in the informal settlement in Lepe (Huelva) affected around 10 shacks with no casualties.
A report developed by the organisations Provivienda and Andalucía Acoge and published by the Ministry of Equal Opportunities in March 2022 underlines that structural racism present in the country leads to housing exclusion, and that the situation and the living conditions in informal settlements result in a violation of fundamental rights.
In its 10 points policy proposals for the 2022 regional elections in Andalucía, the organisation Andalucía Acoge put forward a set of measures to improve the conditions of people currently living in informal settlements in Andalucía. According to data collected by the organisation, around 5,600 persons live in about 50 informal settlements in Huelva and Almería.
In December 2022, the NGO Andalucía Acoge met with different Members of the European Parliament in Brussels, to address the violation of the rights that migrant workers living in the informal settlements in Huelva and Almería suffer, and to urge the Parliament to monitor compliance with the EU framework for the protection of migrants.
A census carried out by the trade union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) stated that in the city of Albacete around 800 persons were living in 10 settlements and 13 sub-settlements between April and September 2021.
A report published by ENAR (European Network against Racism) in February 2022 denounced the terrible living conditions that migrant workers in agriculture continue to face in Spain.
In November 2020, a judge in Huelva (Andalucía) decided that a seasonal worker living in an informal settlement was entitled to the right to be registered at the Municipality of Lepe. Despite it, the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) and Alianza por la Solidaridad-ActionAid denounced the difficulties that migrants living in certain informal settlements are facing while trying to register at local municipalities, which in turn results in limitations in accessing rights and services.
 Human Rights Watch, ‘Spain: LGBT Asylum Seekers Abused in North African Enclave’, 28 April 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2oS5jTD. See also The Guardian, ‘In limbo in Melilla: the young refugees trapped in Spain’s African enclave’, 10 May 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2pyuTxb; Amnesty International, El asilo en España: Un sistema de acogida poco acogedor, May 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/G1YtPi, 37; UNICEF, Acogida en España de los niños refugiados, 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/SaBZgo; Spanish Ombudsman, El asilo en España: La protección internacional y los recursos del sistema de acogida, June 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/rJrg3k, 64
 Council of Europe, Report of the fact-finding mission by Ambassador Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees, to Spain, 18-24 March 2018, SG/Inf(2018)25, 3 September 2018, para 5.1.
 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Spain’s authorities must find alternatives to accommodating migrants, including asylum seekers, in substandard conditions in Melilla, 3 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3oSDbic.
 Melilla Hoy, ‘Andalucía Acoge reclama al Ministerio del Interior la descongestión urgente del CETI de Melilla’, 28 August 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/38wpXS9, Ceuta TV, ‘La Federación Andalucía Acoge exige a Interior que desbloquee la situación de los CETI de Ceuta y Melilla’, 28 August 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3qe65JP; El Diario, ‘Interior ignora desde abril la petición del Defensor del Pueblo de trasladar a migrantes del saturado CETI de Melilla a la península por el riesgo de contagio’, 26 August 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3shvWT4.
 Melilla Hoy, ‘El CETI, bajo mínimos: solo hay 3 migrantes acogidos’, 13 March 2023, available at: https://bit.ly/3Z8dwTF; El Faro de Melilla, ‘El CETI bate su récord histórico: cierra 2022 con solo 5 migrantes acogidos’, 10 January 2023, available at: https://bit.ly/407FgJn.
 It has to be noted that migrants and asylum seekers/persons in need of international protection can be hosted in the same facilities at the Canary Islands, and in many occasions the sources do not distinguish properly between the two categories. Maybe sources speak about migrants, but also asylum seekers/persons in need of international protection can be included in such label.
 El País, ‘Un baño de lejía para clausurar el campamento del muelle de Arguineguín’, 30 November 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3sCGbBi; El País, El Gobierno vacía el campamento de Arguineguín, 29 November 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/35TkyTL.
 El Diario, ‘La Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado critica el archivo del recurso sobre muelle de Arguineguín’, 18 January 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3tDrrFp.
El País,’ El defensor del pueblo: “Confinar inmigrantes en Canarias no es la solución”, 4 December 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/39JVjnQ; La Vanguardia, ‘CEAR pide al Gobierno que traslade a migrantes de Canarias a la Península’, 18 November 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/39SyzC6.
 El Diario, Un gran campamento de migrantes llamado Canarias: “Quieren convertir las islas en Lesbos”, 21 November 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3bOoZD5; El Día, ‘José Antonio Moreno Díaz: “Canarias es una válvula del Estado para medir el acceso de migrantes”, 14 November 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2KuqURQ; El Día, ‘“Están utilizando todas las herramientas para que nadie salga del Archipiélago”’, 19 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/34ojXvJ.
 Defensor del Pueblo, ‘Informe anual 2021 y debates en las Cortes Generales Volumen l. Informe’, March 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Pu0Amr; Cope, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo alerta que la acogida de mujeres migrantes en Canarias falla’, 14 May 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3PtaSmL; Efe, ‘La acogida falla con ellas: no detecta casos de trata o que merecen refugio’, 13 May 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3QU8Kpn.
 Information provided by Accem-Canarias on 17 February 2022.
 Information provided by Fundación Cruz Blanca on 11 February 2022.
 Information provided by Fundación Cruz Blanca in March 2023.
 Information provided by Fundación Cruz Blanca on 11 February 2022.
 Information provided by the IOM on 4 March 2022.
 Amnistía Internacional, ‘El gobierno está a tiempo de impedir que Canarias se convierta en otra frontera europea sin derechos para las personas migrantes y refugiadas’, 27 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3FKahrW.
 Information provided by Save the Children on 11 February 2022.
 Mixed Migration Centre, Save the Children, Médicos del Mundo, ‘A Gateway Re-opens: the growing popularity of the Atlantic route, as told by those who risk it’, February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3Jrw6yG.
 Defensor del Pueblo, El Defensor exige a la Comunidad de Madrid y a la Delegación de Gobierno una solución urgente para restablecer la luz en la Cañada Real, 21 December 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3qDSxHK.
 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Spain: Power outages put children’s lives at risk in informal settlement – UN experts, 22 December 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2M3hz3Y.
 Cadena Ser, ‘El informe pericial de un juzgado concluye que Naturgy tiene limitadores eléctricos que provocan los cortes de luz en la Cañada Real’, 18 March 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ZKo2lg.
 Revista la Mar de Onuba, ‘Nuevas detenciones en el entorno agrario por explotación laboral de trabajadores en condiciones de esclavitud’, 27 May 2020, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/3sHpB3g.
 Andalucía Aocge, ‘Andalucía Acoge marca las prioridades en materia de inmigración del próximo gobierno andaluz en un decálogo de propuestas’, 23 May 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3AanBXi.
 Andalucía Acoge, ‘Andalucía Acoge se reúne con europarlamentarios en Bruselas para abordar la situación de los asentamientos en Huelva y Almería’, 5 December 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3FDmaTK.