Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2017, 09:21 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Spain

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Spain , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2001, Spain hosted more than 1,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included almost 300 persons granted asylum during the year, about 250 persons granted temporary protection, and about 750 persons whose claims were pending at year's end.

During the year, 9,221 asylum seekers filed applications in Spain, a 16 percent increase from the 7,926 who sought asylum in 2000. The largest groups of asylum seekers came from Colombia (2,500), Nigeria (1,350), Sierra Leone (617), and Cuba (2,374).

The Spanish authorities issued decisions on 8,468 cases in 2001, granting 298 persons asylum (3.5 percent) and 252 persons some form of temporary protection (3 percent). Spain rejected 7,918 asylum claims (93.5 percent).

Asylum Procedure

The asylum procedure is governed by Spain's Refugee Law 5/1984, as amended. Asylum seekers may file applications with the Ministry of Interior's Office for Asylum and Refuge (OAR), with the police at the border or within the territory, or at Spanish diplomatic and consular missions abroad. When applying, asylum seekers must submit evidence of their identity and a "credible statement" asserting persecution.

The OAR reviews all asylum applications for admissibility to the regular determination procedure. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) submits an opinion on the admissibility of each claim to the OAR. Spain's 1994 asylum amendments introduced an accelerated procedure for inadmissible or "manifestly unfounded" asylum claims. Cases may be deemed inadmissible if the person has sought or could have sought protection in a third country, if the applicant bases the claim on manifestly false or outdated information, or if the application simply reiterates an earlier case denied by the Spanish authorities.

According to UNHCR, the "safe-third-country" concept is not usually applied by itself, but along with other reasons for declaring an application inadmissible.

The OAR forwards all admissible applications to the Inter-Ministerial Commission for Asylum and Refugee Status (CIAR), which includes representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, labor, social affairs, and justice. UNHCR also attends meetings of the CIAR in an advisory capacity.

The CIAR issues a decision, usually within six months of the application's filing, based on the information in the OAR file and the opinions provided by UNHCR and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). While awaiting a decision, asylum seekers receive accommodation and meals and may apply for work permits.

After evaluating a claim, the CIAR issues its proposed decision to the Ministry of Interior. If the ministry concurs with the CIAR assessment, the decision becomes final. The OAR issues an identity document to approved applicants, making them eligible for residency, work, and social benefits.

In addition to UN Refugee Convention status, Spain extends temporary protected status to displaced persons who have fled their country of origin as a result of political, religious, or ethnic conflict. Recipients of temporary protected status receive yearly residence permits for the duration of the conflict in the country of origin, and are entitled to the same social benefits as recognized refugees.

Denied asylum seekers may appeal negative decisions to the National Audience, a national court, within two months of notification. Appeals do not immediately suspend expulsion orders, although asylum seekers may request a suspension, which is usually granted.

In 2000, Prime Minister José María Aznar created the country's first Immigration Department. In the same year, his ruling Partido Popular (Populist Party) proposed reforms to tighten the new aliens legislation passed the previous year.

The reform legislation denies undocumented aliens the right to demonstrate and join labor unions. It also issues new criteria for admitting foreign nationals and grants authorities the ability to expel undocumented aliens within 72 hours. The controversial law became effective in January 2001.

The law also included a process for the regularization of illegal aliens to which the regularization process in early 2000 did not apply. The deadline to apply for residency under the new law was September 2001.


In 2001, Spain addressed the increasing number of Cuban asylum seekers with a new policy that required Cubans to register for transit visas when traveling to a third country via Spain. The change in policy came after an unprecedented number of Cubans requested asylum during a stopover in a Spanish airport. Nearly 3,000 Cubans applied for asylum in 2001, a figure nearly 17 times larger than the previous year.

Restrictive Measures

Despite efforts to curtail mass movements of people across the Strait of Gibraltar, the waters of the Canary Islands, and the fortified borders between Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, an increasing number of migrants have reached Spanish territory in recent years.

In response to new influxes of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, Spain continued to reinforce its African borders by erecting double fences with barbed wire, spotlights, sensors, and video cameras. Spain also coordinated with Moroccan officials to prevent the clandestine departure of immigrants on board small boats destined for mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.

An estimated 15,000 migrants were apprehended while attempting to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001. The number of extraterritorial migrants who entered without being detected is thought to be much higher. Increasingly, these migrants have included large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom may be potential asylum seekers.

Although Spanish authorities are required to provide legal assistance to detained migrants, most migrants have poor counsel and few have access to legal interpretation services. Other barriers to asylum include time limits for filing applications and requirements for possession of official documents.

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