Special reception needs of vulnerable groups


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable groups Last updated: 30/11/20


In the Spanish reception system, efforts are made to place asylum seekers in the reception place which best fits their profile and needs depending on their age, sex, household, nationality, existence of family networks, maintenance, etc.[1] A case by case assessment is made between OAR and the NGO in charge of the reception centres and, after assessing the availability of reception spaces and the individual characteristics of the applicant, the person is placed in the place that responds to his or her needs.

As asylum seekers’ placement is made on case by case basis, it should be stated that there is an ongoing monitoring mechanism which takes into consideration the response to reception needs of each person concerning the mentioned profiles.[2]

In addition, based on vulnerability factors referred to under the Asylum Act, most vulnerable profiles are allowed to longer reception compared to the normal 18-month period. For vulnerable groups, reception under the first phase can last 9 months as well as an additional 15 months under the second phase, thus reaching a total of 24 months of reception.[3]

Nonetheless, available resources have a generalised approach and do not cover the needs presented by the most vulnerable asylum applicants, who are referred to external and more specialised services in case they need them. The Spanish reception system in fact does not guarantee specialised reception places addressed to asylum applicants such as victims of trafficking, victims of torture, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children or persons with mental disorders. As mentioned in Health care, some NGOs offer receptions facilities and services for asylum seekers with health mental problems. In addition, some NGOs have specific places in their reception facilities specifically addressed to trafficked women.  

Reception places for asylum-seeking victims of trafficking are very few, managed by Adoratrices – Proyecto Esperanza, APRAMP association and Diaconia.

There are no specialised resources for unaccompanied asylum seeking-children, and they are thus hosted in general centres for unaccompanied children.

The generalised approach of the asylum reception system has been criticised by several organisations, including Amnesty International,[4] UNICEF,[5] and the Ombudsman,[6] as it fails to provide adequate responses to the most vulnerable cases.

Due to the high increase in arrivals during 2018, many unaccompanied children have been left with no safe accommodation and have been forced to sleep in police stations.[7] The Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its Observations on Spain in 2018, where it expressed serious concerns about the reception of unaccompanied children.[8] In particular, the Committee raised concerns about the deficiencies of the facilities and the overcrowding of some centres, as well as the cases of ill-treatment of children in reception centres. The Committee was also concerned about the reports of reclusion of children in isolation, erroneous medical diagnosis and wrong medical treatments, together as well as the lack of surveillance systems and of reporting mechanisms to the authorities. Homelessness of unaccompanied children when they reach the majority has been reported as a concern in 2019, including the negative impact this has on their mental health.[9]

The Ombudsman also reiterated his concerns about the reception of unaccompanied children in Melilla, affirming that “unpleasant things are happening”.[10] Particular difficulties were also reported by the Asociación Harraga regarding a large group of minors living in the streets of Melilla, who do not have access to basic social services to whom they are entitled. These adolescents, mainly from Morocco and Algeria, are under the guardianship of the Melilla’s Autonomous administration, as they entered Spain as irregular unaccompanied minors or unaccompanied asylum seekers.[11]

Due to the conditions of the Melilla’s Centre of Protection of Minors in which they should live because they are under the administration’s custody, children prefer living on the city’s streets and try to reach the Spanish Peninsula hiding in transport. This situation concerned more than 100 children in 2017 and between 50 and 100 children in 2018.[12] In December 2019, 93 children were in this situation, while in February 2020 they were 35.

After the death of an unaccompanied Moroccan 16-year-old boy in Ceuta, Save the Children also denounced the abandonment of unaccompanied children in the two Spanish enclaves, estimating that, out of 250 unaccompanied children under the responsibility of the city of Ceuta, around 50 live on the street.[13] The organisation estimated that around 100 children were homeless in the two cities.[14]

The situation did not improve in 2019. In December 2019, the Treasury Office of the Government of Melilla submitted a report to the Public prosecutor for Children. The report refers to the “humanitarian catastrophe” resulting from the living conditions in the centre La Purísima, which accommodates unaccompanied children in Melilla.[15] The report states that the conditions of the centers violate the children’s dignity and ignore their basic needs; thus putting their life at risk. However, instead of issuing a new call for the management of the centre, the Government of the City of Melilla decided in January 2020 to renew the contract with the current management of the centre for another year. This means that the centre will continue to host more than 800 children although it has a maximum capacity of 350 places.[16] Overcrowding, inadequate living conditions and other relevant problems seems to be persisting in 2020. In March 2020, some pictures indicating overcrowding and inhuman conditions of the centre leaked, showing almost 900 unaccompanied children in a facility with a capacity of 350 places[17].  

Similarly in Barcelona, many children were living on the streets during 2019, and ended up selling drugs, stealing or prostituting themselves to survive. The Government of Cataluña put in place an action plan aimed at strengthening the presence of social workers on the streets.[18]

Moreover, unaccompanied children continued to face discrimination and to be criminalised. In March 2019, 25 persons committed a racist attack against a reception centre hosting around 35 unaccompanied children in Castelldefels (Barcelona). Damage was inflicted to the facility and children and their educators were attacked.[19] This marked the second attack within the same week and the attackers included children living in the city. In July 2019, the Spanish Ombudsman and UNICEF expressed serious concerns about these incidents.[20] In November 2019, three children aged 11 and 12 years old were prohibited from eating at a McDonald’s in Melilla and were characterised as criminals.[21] Moreover, in December 2019, a grenade was thrown at the Hortaleza reception centre for unaccompanied children located in Madrid. Incidents and xenophobic protests had already been reported at this centre in October 2019.[22]

The climate of hate seems to be also driven by certain political parties. In January 2019, the People’s Party (Partido Popular) reinitiated a parliamentary initiative aiming at considering unaccompanied children economic migrants and thus calling for their expulsion.[23]

The Spanish Ombudsman announced its intention to investigate whether the right-wing party Vox was responsible for committing a hate crime against unaccompanied children.[24] Similarly, in November 2019 the Public Prosecutor of Sevilla launched an investigation against the president of Vox Madrid for committing a hate crime, as she had made statements inciting violence against unaccompanied children hosted in a centre of the city.[25]

To tackle hate and negative perceptions against unaccompanied migrant children, the NGO Accem released an awareness-raising video titled ‘Treat me as a child’ (‘Que me traten como un niño’) in 2019.[26] In addition, Save the Children launched the initiative ‘#YoSíTeQuiero’ (‘#Me, yes, I love you’), with the aim of fostering a realistic and positive communication on the issue.[27]

Regarding the reception conditions of the Hortaleza centre in Madrid, in January 2020 the Spanish Ombudsman defined the situation of the facility as ‘critic’ and that it ‘deteriorates considerably’, especially in relation to overcrowding, the lack of an internal protocol on how to manage assaults and the lack of appropriate measures by the competent authority.[28]

Another important issue relates to the registration of unaccompanied minors. 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. The claim had been lodged by the NGO Caritas-Spain.[29] 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.[30]

In September 2019, the Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado) adopted an internal circular addressed to all public prosecutors regarding the grant of residence permits to unaccompanied children. The circular foresees the obligation for all public prosecutors to apply the law and thus to grant a residence permit to unaccompanied children at regional level and to lodge a claim against Delegations and Sub-delegations of the Government that, without justified reasons, refuse to submit such permits.[31]

Although the law foresees that unaccompanied children must be granted a residence permit upon their arrival in Spain,[32]at least 10,000 unaccompanied children falling under the protection of the Autonomous Communities were found to be undocumented in 2019.[33]  

In October 2019, the Ombudsman highlighted the necessity to improve the protection of children who arrive in Spain irregularly and are accompanied by adults.[34] The issues identified by the Ombudsman relate inter alia to the dysfunctions of the registration of children who arrive in Spain, the necessity to establish identification mechanisms for children at risk (e.g. of human trafficking) as well as the importance of establishing swift procedures facilitating the coordination amongst relevant authorities. The ten Spanish Ombudsmen and Ombudswomen agreed to sign a common declaration calling on the public authorities to implement a national strategic plan to assist migrant children.[35]

As regards the accommodation of unaccompanied children, in January 2020, the Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado) called on the Autonomous Communities, which are in charge of the protection of unaccompanied children, to agree on the distribution of unaccompanied children arriving to Andalucía, Ceuta and Melilla; i.e. the Spanish regions recording the highest number of arrivals.[36]   

Also important to note is the intention of the Minister of Interior to examine the possibility of changing the Spanish term usually employed to refer to unaccompanied minors (menor extranjero no acompañado – MENA) with a more equal and gendered terminology, inter alia with the aim to also include girls and adolescents (Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Migrantes No Acompañados – NNAMNA).[37] The NGO Save the Children launched a campaign (“MENAS es un stigma. Son niños y niñas solos”) to raise awareness on the stigmatisation stemming from the term “MENA” and to recall that they are children arriving alone to Spain.[38] In November 2019 different organisations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Fundación Raíces and Plataforma de Infancia denounced the discrimination faced by unaccompanied children in cooperation with the Spanish General Bar Council.[39]

In March 2020, the State Secretary for Migration adopted an instruction addressed to the Autonomous Communities (which are in charge of the protection and guardianship of unaccompanied migrant children), with the aim of providing work permits to adolescents aged between 16 and 18. The measure aims at improving the situation of unaccompanied migrant children and at assuring them the access to the labour market within the same conditions as Spanish nationals.[40]  

In relation to LGTBI+ asylum seekers, a report published by Accem in 2018 underlines the necessity to make the reception system more flexible, in order to better respond to their specific needs. In addition, the report recommends the creation of safe environments which guarantee the free expression of asylum seekers’ identity and the necessity to tackle the discrimination that they suffer in different contexts, especially in accessing health services and housing.[41]


[1] DGIAH, Reception Handbook, November 2018, A, p. 6.

[2] DGIAH, Reception Handbook, November 2018, G.2 (p. 22), G.3 (p. 24).

[3]DGIAH, Reception Handbook, November 2018, F.F.1 and F.F.5, pp. 15 and 17.

[4] Amnesty International, El asilo en España: Un sistema de acogida poco acogedor, May 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/G1YtPi, 37.

[5] UNICEF, Acogida en España de los niños refugiados, 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/SaBZgo.

[6] 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.

[7] The Province, ‘Refugee children sleeping in Spanish police stations spark calls for “urgent intervention” by officials’, 22 September 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2QVujq4.

[8] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Observaciones finales sobre los informes periódicos quinto y sexto combinados de España, 5 March 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2AUBVUD.

[9] El Periódico, ‘Decenas de menas siguen quedándose sin hogar al cumplir los 18 años’, 6 July 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/grc1K0C.

[10] El Faro de Melilla, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo, sobre menores: “En Melilla están pasando cosas desagradables”’, 16 February 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2sBv5Pq

[11]Asociación Harraga, ‘De niños en peligro a niños peligrosos: una visión sobre la situación actual de los menores extranjeros no acompañados en Melilla’, 2016, available in Spanish at: https://goo.gl/i1p9UV.  

[12] El País, ‘Melilla, una insólita ciudad de niños solos y sin derecho a la escuela’, 25 June 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2Mg59BI.

[13] Ansamed, ‘Save The Children denuncia abbandono minori migranti a Ceuta’, 10 April 2018, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/2RWm3L1.

[14] Save the Children, Los más solos, May 2018, available in Spanish at: https://bit.ly/2x5pFkD, 21.

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

[16] Público, ‘Más de 800 menores migrantes vivirán hacinados otro año mientras Melilla redefine el contrato de su centro de acogida’, 15 January 2020, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/crc1ANR.

[17]Pikara Magazine, ‘Voluntarias de Melilla denuncian el hacinamiento de unos 900 menores en el centro La Purísima’, 11 March 2020, available at: https://cutt.ly/BtUHM86; El País, ‘600 chavales hacinados en el principal centro de menores inmigrantes de Melilla’, 10 March 2020, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/6tUH9cf.

[18] El País, ‘How the streets of Barcelona have become a refuge for unaccompanied migrants’, 16 July 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/9tT1jY4.

[19]  20Minutos, ‘Unos 25 encapuchados asaltan un centro de menores extranjeros no acompañados en Castelldefels’, 11 March 2019, available in Spanish at at: https://cutt.ly/NrcNNmP.

[20]El País, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo y Unicef alertan de la criminalización de los menores inmigrantes’, 19 July 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/srcNz8K.

[21] Cadena Ser, Prohíben comer en un McDonald's a tres inmigrantes menores de edad por considerarlos "delincuentes", 1 November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Brc0hYY.

[22] El País, ‘Lanzada una granada contra un centro con menores migrantes en Madrid’, 5 December 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/MrcMOor; El Salto Diario, ‘Hortaleza distorsionada’, 7 December 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/prcMPIp.

[23] El Diario, ‘Expulsar a menores extranjeros no acompañados: PP y Gobierno vuelven a intentar lo que ya fracasó en el pasado’, 5 January 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/HrcMr6b.

[24]Diario16, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo lleva a Vox a la Fiscalía por sus vídeos sobre los menores inmigrantes’, 18 December 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/WrcMLwb.

[25] El Diario, ‘La Fiscalía de Sevilla investiga a Rocío Monasterio por presunto delito de odio a menores extranjeros no acompañados’, 18 November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Yrc9L64.  

[26] Accem, ‘Que me traten como un niño’, December 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/5tUD4Mi.

[27] Save the Children, ‘#YoSíTeQuiero’, December 2019, available at: https://cutt.ly/QtUFdA8.

[28] El Diario, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo cree que la situación del centro de Hortaleza es "crítica" y empeora "considerablemente"’, 16 January 2020, available at: https://cutt.ly/JtYCgL6.

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

[30] 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.

[31] Público, ‘La Fiscalía del Estado ordena demandar a las Delegaciones del Gobierno que no den permiso de residencia a menores migrantes’, 26 September 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/YrcMWVq.

[32] Article 196 Aliens Regulation.

[33] El País, ‘España mantiene sin papeles a casi 10,000 menores inmigrantes tutelados’, 19 November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Urc0Gnr.

[34] Defensor del Pueblo, ‘El Defensor del Pueblo hace un llamamiento para avanzar en la protección de los menores extranjeros que llegan a españa de manera irregular acompañados de adultos’, 8 October 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/frcma20.

[35]  Defensor Navarra, ‘Los Defensores del Pueblo al completo exigen un plan nacional para atender con garantías a los menores migrantes’, 17 October 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Trc0pry.

[36] Europapress, ‘Fiscalía General del Estado pide repartir "solidariamente" a los menores inmigrantes solos de Ceuta, Melilla y Andalucía’, 10 January 2020, available at: https://cutt.ly/5rc1nos.

[37] Europapress, Interior estudia cambiar el término 'Menores Extranjeros No Acompañados' (MENA) por uno "más igualitario", 4 July 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/MrcNWp8.

[38] Save the Children, MENAS es un stigma. Son niños y niñas solos, November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/src91hX.

[39] El País, Organizaciones de la infancia piden a la Fiscalía que investigue posibles delitos de odio contra los menores inmigrantes, 14 November 2019, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/Zrc0b0C.

[40] Ministerio de Inclusión, Seguridad Social y Migraciones, Secretaría de Estado de Migraciones, ‘Instrucción 1/2020 de la Secretaría de Estado de Migraciones por la que se habilita a trabajar a menores extranjeros en edad laboral’, 6 March 2020, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/btUCk4z; El País, ‘El Gobierno facilitará el permiso de trabajo a los menores migrantes’, 7 March 2020, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/ktUHEK2.

[41]  Accem, ‘La situación de las personas solicitantes de protección internacional y refugiadas LGTBI’, December 2018, available in Spanish at: https://cutt.ly/3tUFBKE


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