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09 June 2021 – Spain

S. Fernández, “Luz Verde al Nuevo CIE de Algeciras por 21 millones de Euros,” ABCandalucía, 11 November 2020,
S. Fernández, “Luz Verde al Nuevo CIE de Algeciras por 21 millones de Euros,” ABCandalucía, 11 November 2020,

Shortly after the onset of the first wave of COVID-19 in early 2020, Spain began emptying its immigration detention centres – Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIEs) – and by 6 May 2020, authorities had temporarily closed them all (see 15 May 2020 Spain update on this platform). This development was welcomed by human rights organisations including the Campaña Por el Cierre de los Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros, who also highlighted that detainees were left without support or place of residence, and were not referred to reception centres.

Despite a second-wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping through Europe, the Spanish government ordered the reopening of CIEs towards the end of September 2020. According to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) 2020 annual report, due to a lack of protocols and sanitary measures, the reopening led to the spread of the virus, resulting in detainees being isolated and causing widespread anxiety and anguish. The JRS stated that the government reopened the centres to demonstrate its alignment with the new European pact on asylum and migration presented on the same day as the reopening of CIEs. The new pact on asylum, aims to, inter alia, speed up the timeframe for returns and ensure that detention operations are conducted in centres that would guarantee this. One of the authors of the JRS noted that at that time, “the borders were still very much closed and there was a lot of uncertainty about the possibility of conducting returns. If detention in a CIE is a measure to ensure returns, how can detention be resumed if it is unclear that returns can be conducted?”

The JRS also reported that of the 1,904 people returned during 2020, only 524 were returned from a CIE (27.5 percent), as most people are returned within 72 hours following their arrival. According to the JRS, these statistics reinforce the argument that the use of detention is largely unnecessary and causes unnecessary suffering. According to the report, there were 2,224 people held in CIEs during 2020, of whom 1,767 were held due to a return order being issued against them. In addition, 42 were identified as minors. Nevertheless, according to the JRS, Spain has indicated its commitment to expanding the use of immigration detention through its plan to build a new CIE in Algeciras, which will have a capacity of 500 places and a budget of 21 million euros.

In May 2021, the country returned 4,000 of the 8,000 migrants who arrived in Ceuta during a wave sparked in part by a diplomatic dispute between Morocco and Spain. Around 6,000 people (largely Moroccan nationals), of whom 1,500 were children, swam to Ceuta on 17 and 18 May 2021 and one person died during the crossing. The country mobilised 200 additional police personnel in addition to the 1,200 officers who were already patrolling the border with Morocco.

Due to the large number of arrivals to the Canary Islands in 2020 (see 27 October 2020 and 20 November 2020 Spain updates on this platform), in November 2020, the Spanish government unveiled the “Plan Canarias” which aimed to create 7,000 accommodation places for migrants on the islands of Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Tenerife. However, five months later, in April 2021, Amnesty International Spain reported that reception conditions on the archipelago remain worrying, including overcrowding, COVID-19 infections and general hygiene. On 15 April 2021, a Judge in Las Palmas held that migrants stuck on the islands were entitled to travel to mainland Spain if they “proved their identity with a passport” or with an “application for international protection.”