At the end of 2000, Spain hosted more than 1,100 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 370 persons granted asylum during the year, 382 persons granted temporary protection, and 391 persons whose claims were pending at year's end.
During the year, 7,926 asylum seekers filed applications in Spain, down 6 percent from the 8,405 who sought asylum in 1999. By country of origin, the largest groups of asylum seekers arrived from Colombia (1,400), Nigeria (850), Sierra Leone (820), Cuba (800), and Armenia (530).
The Spanish authorities issued decisions affecting 7,535 cases in 2000, granting 370 persons asylum (5 percent) and 382 persons some form of temporary protection (5 percent). Spain rejected 6,783 asylum seekers in 2000.
The asylum procedure is governed by Spain's 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. 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has sought or could have sought protection in a third country, if the applicant bases the claim on manifestly false or outdated information, or if the application simply reiterates an earlier case denied by the Spanish authorities.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 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.
The 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, 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 decision, it becomes final. The OAR issues an identity document to accepted applicants, making them eligible for residency, work, and social benefits.
In addition to Convention refugee 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 their country of origin. They 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.
The Aliens Act on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain and Their Social Integration" became law on February 1, 2000. The new law grants immigrants the right to employment, health, housing, and education.
The law also grants residency to undocumented immigrants who had previously requested a residence or work permit and can prove two years of uninterrupted stay in the country. The law applied to foreigners, including asylum seekers, present in Spain since June 1, 1999. The deadline to apply for residency under the new law was July 31, 2000.
Some 247,000 undocumented foreigners applied for permissions to live and work in Spain by the July deadline. Of those, Spanish authorities granted residency to about 175,000.
An increase in the number of immigrants entering Spain coincided with rising anti-immigrant sentiment. In response, Prime Minister José María Aznar created the country's first Immigration Department. In early August, the ruling Partido Popular (Populist Party) proposed reforms to tighten the new aliens legislation.
The reform legislation denied undocumented aliens the right to demonstrate or join labor unions. It also issued new criteria for admitting foreign nationals, and granted authorities the ability to expel undocumented aliens within 72 hours. The controversial law was approved to become effective in January 2001.
Spanish Enclaves in Africa
In recent years, large numbers of Africans have arrived in Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, across the strait of Gibralter. Increasingly, these migrants have included large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom may be potential asylum seekers. Increasingly restrictive barriers to deter unauthorized entry into continental Europe have made these two enclaves a target for those seeking entry into the continent. Once gaining a foothold in Spain, extra-regional migrants have been able to traverse the relaxed interior borders of Europe.
Posts at the borders of Ceuta and Melilla do not allow asylum seekers to file claims in accordance with the 1994 asylum law. Asylum seekers generally cross the border into the enclaves illegally and, once there, are permitted to file their asylum application according to the in-land procedure.
Large numbers of undocumented migrants, including many sub-Saharans, also entered Europe through the Canary Islands, a Spanish island chain 715 miles off the coast of Africa. About 2,000 people were apprehended as they attempted to enter the Canary Islands. However, the number that actually entered is thought to be much higher. According to the International Federation of the Red Cross, about 35,000 sub-Saharan Africans were waiting in Morocco for an opportunity to embark clandestinely for the Canary Islands. Under the new aliens law, a majority of apprehended migrants were detained and released after 72 hours if the Spanish authorities could not repatriate them.
In response to increasing 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 worked with Moroccan officials to prevent the clandestine departure of immigrants on board small boats destined for the Peninsula or the Canary Islands.