At the end of 1999, Spain hosted about 4,500 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 287 persons granted asylum during the year, 3,300 asylum seekers with pending cases, 70 rejected asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia still in need of protection, and 869 persons granted temporary protection (397 Kosovars, 413 non-Yugoslavs granted humanitarian status, and 59 granted "other protection").
During the year, 8,405 asylum seekers filed applications in Spain, a 28 percent increase over the 6,545 who sought asylum in 1998. By country of origin, the largest groups of asylum seekers arrived from Algeria (1,342), Romania (1,033), Armenia (886), Sierra Leone (803), and Colombia (601).
The Spanish authorities issued decisions affecting 2,378 cases in 1999, granting 287 persons asylum (12 percent) and 472 persons some form of temporary protection (20 percent). Spain rejected 1,619 asylum seekers (68 percent) in 1999.
Spain granted refugee status to 44 persons from Colombia, an approval rate of 22 percent for that nationality. Authorities also granted refugee status to 41 Russians (35 percent), 31 Cubans (23 percent), and 29 people from Equatorial Guinea (41 percent). Sierra Leoneans and Algerians had lower approval rates. Of 192 Sierra Leoneans who applied, Spain granted asylum to two (one percent) and offered temporary protection to 34. Of 436 decisions on Algerian cases, Spain granted 28 asylum (15 percent), offered 191 temporary protection, and denied 219.
In 1999, 1,426 Kosovo Albanians arrived in Spain under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP). Spain granted temporary protection to them. For the first month, newly arrived Kosovars lived in transit centers, after which they moved to smaller centers. Although Spain allowed Kosovo refugees arriving under the HEP to apply for asylum, none did so in 1999. By year's end, 1,029 had voluntarily repatriated to Kosovo. Spain planned to assist others to return to Kosovo in 2000.
Throughout 1999, Spain continued to deport undocumented foreigners attempting to enter the country through the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain. Spain reported detaining and deporting some 1,000 to 1,200 undocumented immigrants from the Canary Islands during the year. Spain allowed another 323 asylum seekers who arrived via the Canary Islands to apply for asylum.
The asylum procedure is governed by Refugee Law 5/1984, as amended. Asylum seekers can file applications with the Ministry of Interior's Office for Asylum and Refuge (OAR), the police at the border or within the territory, and at Spanish diplomatic and consular missions abroad. In applying, asylum seekers must submit evidence of identity and a credible statement asserting persecution.
OAR reviews all asylum applications for admissibility to the regular determination procedure. 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 inadmissible if the person has sought or could have sought protection in a third country, the applicant bases the claim on manifestly false or outdated information, or if the application is a mere reiteration of an earlier case denied by the Spanish authorities.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the "safe third country" concept is not usually applied by itself, but along with other reasons for declaring an application inadmissible.
Spain began implementing the Dublin Convention on September 1, 1997, a European Union (EU) agreement that designates the country responsible for adjudicating asylum claims (see chart).
OAR forwards all admissible applications to the Interministerial Commission for Asylum and Refugee Status (CIAR), which includes representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, labor and social affairs, and justice. Once Spain admits an asylum application to the regular determination process, UNHCR attends meetings of CIAR in an advisory capacity.
CIAR issues a decision, usually within four months, based on the information provided in the OAR file and the opinions provided by UNHCR and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). While awaiting a decision, the asylum seeker receives accommodation and meals and may apply for a work permit.
After evaluation, CIAR issues its proposed decision to the Ministry of Interior. If the ministry concurs with the CIAR decision, it becomes final. OAR issues an identity document to accepted applicants, making them eligible for residency, work, and social benefits.
In addition to Convention refugee status, Spain may extend 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. They are entitled to the same social benefits as recognized refugees.
Denied asylum seekers can 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 can request a suspension, which is usually granted.
Spain lacked funds to provide interpreters for asylum seekers in late 1999. A backlog of more than 1,000 cases forced asylum seekers to translate documents on their own, with limited assistance from NGOs.
On December 22, 1999, the Spanish lower chamber, the Congreso, approved the new aliens bill to become effective on February 1, 2000. The new law will allow immigrants to move freely within Spain. It improves access to health care, social services, education, and legal aid. It also includes public subsidies for housing and grants immigrants voting rights in municipal elections.
The new law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a residence permit. To do so, they must establish proof of two years of uninterrupted stay by registering in the municipality where they live, after which they receive a five-year temporary residence permit. After five years, they may apply for a permanent residence permit.
A provision of the law requires the Spanish government to issue a decree to allow certain undocumented foreigners to legalize their status. This provision will apply to foreigners, including asylum seekers, present in Spain since June 1, 1999, who hold or applied for a residence permit or work permit during the past three years.
North African Spanish Enclaves
During 1999, Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, received 391 and 1,168 asylum seekers, respectively. Spain continued to implement strong measures to prevent undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers from entering Ceuta and Melilla, including double fences with barbed wire, spotlights, sensors, and video cameras. On December 27, state police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water canons, to prevent undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. Some 7,000 undocumented foreigners entered Ceuta in 1999, up from 1,000 in 1998, and 700 in 1997.
Border posts at neither enclave allow asylum seekers to file claims in accordance with the 1994 asylum law. Asylum seekers generally cross the border illegally and, once there, are permitted to file their asylum application according to the in-land procedure.
The government of Ceuta said it would not apply the new aliens law authorizing the registration of undocumented immigrants because the law "seriously endangers Spanish sovereignty over the city." Government representatives of Spain's other enclave city, Melilla, said they welcomed the new law.