Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Spain

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Spain , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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 2002, Spain hosted about 160 refugees in need of protection.

During the year, around 6,300 asylum seekers filed applications in Spain, a 32 percent decrease from 2001. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Nigeria (1,400), Cuba (1,200), Colombia (1,100), and Sierra Leone (270).

The Spanish authorities issued decisions on 6,130 asylum applications in 2002, granting about 160 persons asylum (about 3 percent) and 70 persons humanitarian protection (about 1 percent). Spain rejected around 5,900 asylum claims (about 96 percent).

Asylum Procedure

The asylum procedure is governed by Spain's 1984 Refugee Act 5, as amended by the Asylum Act (Act 9) in 1994. Asylum seekers may file applications with the Ministry of Interior's Office for Asylum and Refuge (OAR), with the police at the border or in the country, 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 treats claims deemed inadmissible or manifestly unfounded to an accelerated procedure. Cases may be inadmissible if the person has sought or could have sought protection in a safe-third-country, if the applicant bases the claim on manifestly false or outdated information, or if the application simply reiterates an earlier case denied by the Spanish authorities.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 mentioned above.

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 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While awaiting a decision, asylum seekers receive housing and meals and may work if they have been waiting more than six months. However, according to UNHCR, in practice, very few asylum seekers receive work permits as the government procedure for granting authorization can take up to six months.

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 public assistance.

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

In 2000, Spain opened its first Immigration Department. In January 2001, a new law denied undocumented aliens the right to demonstrate and join labor unions. It also grants authorities the ability to expel undocumented aliens within 72 hours.

Humanitarian Status

In addition to UN Refugee Convention status, Spain may grant "humanitarian status" to persons who do not meet the definition of a refugee, but are "obliged to leave their country of origin due to conflicts or serious disturbances of a political, ethnic, or religious character." Recipients of humanitarian status are issued yearly residence permits for up to three years, at which time, if the grounds for their status remain, they may obtain an ordinary residence permit for another three years.

Temporary Protection

Spain also extends "temporary protection" to groups of displaced persons "who have been forced to leave their country of origin due to conflicts or serious disturbances of a political, ethnic, or religious character." Recipients of temporary protection receive yearly residence permits for the duration of the conflict in the country of origin, and are entitled to the same benefits as refugees. More than 1,400 Kosovo Albanians were granted temporary protection in 1999, however, none remained in Spain at the end of 2002.

Restrictive Measures

In 2001, in an effort to stem the increase in asylum seekers from Cuba, Spain required Cubans to register for transit visas when traveling to a third country through Spain. In 2002, 1,200 Cubans applied for asylum in Spain, half as many as 2001.

In 2002, Spain imposed entry visa requirements on Colombian nationals to reduce the number of Colombians claiming asylum. As a result, only 1,100 Colombians applied for asylum in 2002, some 58 percent less than the previous year.

Despite efforts to curtail mass movements of people across the Straits 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. During the year, Spain forcibly expelled, repatriated, or denied entry at the border to more than 74,000 foreigners, about half of whom were from Morocco.

In 2002, Spain invested heavily in a new "intelligence service of external vigilance" to enable state police to intercept boats of migrants heading for Spanish shores. More than 16,000 migrants were apprehended while trying to reach Spain by sea during 2002. Many lost their lives on the perilous journey: some 35 bodies were discovered at sea, and doubtless many more drowned during the year.

The Canary Islands have received nearly a threefold increase in boat migrant arrivals (from around 2,400 in 2000 to 6,700 in 2002) and struggled to house them in six accommodation and detention centers. In April, the Ministry of Interior agreed to construct a further four detention centers and two reception centers. In May, the government announced that once the Canary Islands reached a quota of 1,500 migrants, further arrivals would be transferred to the mainland.

During the year, several reports criticized the Spanish authorities' treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released, "The Other Face of the Canary Islands: Rights Violations against Migrants and Asylum Seekers," which criticized substandard detention conditions and inadequate procedural rights. In April, Amnesty International reported on more than 320 cases of race-related ill-treatment against foreigners by Spanish authorities and criticized Spain for illegally expelling unaccompanied Moroccan children.

HRW also criticized Spanish authorities for mistreatment of unaccompanied children in a May report, allegations corroborated by the Spanish Ombudsman and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June. The reports accused Spanish police in the enclaves of beating children during forced expulsions and criticized government authorities for denying them medical care and education. During the year, increasing numbers of unaccompanied Moroccan children entered Spain where already poor and overcrowded conditions in reception centers in Ceuta and Melilla deteriorated.

NGOs noted that although Spanish authorities are required to provide legal assistance to detained migrants, most migrants have poor legal 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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