Asylum law and migration control

Flight through the militarisation of borders

To take a closer look, albeit briefly, at what happens today with refugees and immigrants attempting to reach Spain, we must start with the international context, characterised, among other aspects, by the formal recognition of the vast majority of human rights in many States, but also by the fact that most humans have no opportunity to exercise these rights.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, stipulates: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

The Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as any individual who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country.

The first step in being able to enjoy the protection offered by the institution of asylum is to succeed in reaching a safe country. But refugees don’t make it to Europe. Why not?

The continued and increasing harshening of migration policies implemented by Spain, in the framework of the European Union, has serious consequences as regards exercising and enjoying human rights and represents non-fulfilment of the international agreements and treaties signed.

The world has 43.7 million people who deserve international protection (1). In its obsession for security policies and the fight against irregular migration, Europe has externalised its borders by deploying large military and police forces that make it difficult for people requiring international protection to enter the country.

In 2010 only 2,378 people applied for asylum in Spain, the lowest figure in 21 years. Most of these applications were rejected.

According to Fortress Europe, 14,714 people have lost their lives on the European coasts since 1988. Added to these, another 6,344 bodies are still missing in the sea, although eye witness reports would have us believe that there are in fact very many more.

These policies have turned Europe into a fortress that is both inaccessible and indifferent to human rights violations. Deployment of the Frontex agency (2), agreements with transit countries and detention centres in third countries sustain the “Fortress Europe” circuit of repression.

Meanwhile, the new asylum law (3) consolidates the function of Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) as borders within our own borders.

These are Spanish holding centres for people from other countries who have no papers permitting them to stay in Spain or for regular residents issued with removal orders.

Under the new Immigration Law (4), individuals can be held for up to 60 days. During this time, attempts are made to establish their countries of origin. If they come from a country with which Spain has a bilateral agreement, they are deported. If, after 60 days, their nationality remains unknown or no bilateral agreement exists with a country that will readmit them, the person is set free with a removal order.

The technical report “Situation of Immigrant Detention Centres in Spain” drawn up by the CEAR (Spanish Commission for Assistance to Refugees) in the framework of the DEVAS project, leads us to draw the following conclusions:

  • One of every four people held would have one or more reasons to apply for asylum. This figure is twenty times higher than the number of people who actually make the application, a figure which causes great concern and underlines the lack of protection suffered by potential applicants.
  • The Ombudsman (5) has visited each centre and has voiced his concern over the priority given to security measures in detriment to living conditions and maintaining rights, direct custody by the National Police Force and the absence of effective mechanisms for controlling police action.
  • Evidence of abuse and torture was found at the IDCs in Madrid and Valencia.

Since then, many voices have been and are still being raised in protest against the situation of individuals held at the 9 IDCs (6) existing in Spain.

This complete battery of measures introduced for the “Fight against Illegal Immigration”, as the Ministry of the Interior entitles its yearly reports on migration flow control, has many and very serious consequences. One of them: refugees do not get this far.

But people who try to flee don’t disappear; they are trapped in places where their lives and safety are in danger. Spain has the responsibility to introduce an asylum policy that meets the Tampere commitments and recovers the spirit of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which outlined the asylum policy at the beginnings of Democracy.

CEAR-Euskadi (Commission for Assistance to Refugees in the Basque Country)

Film: Vol spécial


  1. According to figures published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2010.
  2. European agency commissioned to coordinate operational cooperation between EU Member States in the field of border security.
  3. Law 12/2009, of October 30, regulating the right to asylum and subsidiary protection.
  4. Organic Law 2/2009, of December 11, amending Organic Law 4/2000, of January 11, on the rights and freedoms of foreigners in Spain and their social integration (Article 62).
  5. The Ombudsman. Recorded as issued on 07/07/10 – 10044814. File no.: 10010410. In response to a written document from the CEAR.
  6. IDCs in Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Algeciras, Tarifa, Malaga, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Tenerife.
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