Ensuring asylum seekers can meet their basic needs

In Spain, asylum seekers who enter the refugee determination process can be housed in an open reception centre if they cannot afford private accommodation.

These centres are operated by the government or by non-government organisations. The total reception capacity in Spain is about 850 places, with priority given to vulnerable individuals. Asylum seekers cannot choose which area within Spain they will be located.

The centres are responsible for the reception, promotion and integration of asylum seekers and refugees. Residents are free to come and go from the centres as they like. As an example, one centre provides bedrooms shared by 3-4 single adults, while families have their own room with a small bathroom attached.

There are catered meals in a dining hall, public lounge areas, library, shared computer and Internet access and a shared laundry. Residents receive €50 per month cash allowance for their own use including public transport. Twice a year residents are given money for clothes.

Residents are assigned a social worker who provides information and advice on their situation, works to develop an individual pathway and assists them in accessing education, health care and other social systems of Spain.

All residents are expected to attend Spanish language classes, cultural orientation, and employment preparation programs.

Recreational activities such as sports, visits to the local library, exhibitions and movies are supported by an activities officer.

Psychological services and specialised services including legal aid are available for eligible residents. The centres also undertake advocacy activities in the local Spanish community.

Residents are issued a card that identifies them as asylum seekers and facilitates their access to medical care. Asylum seekers can be housed in reception centres for six months.

If they are still awaiting a decision on their refugee application at that time, they are supported to find independent housing and employment. At this point, they are given the right to work. Vulnerable individuals and families may apply to extend their stay in the centre for an extra six months if needed. The program has been praised by UNHCR for its high standards.

Law prohibiting the detention of specific vulnerable groups

Article 62.2 of Organic Law 4/2000 establishes that minors may not be held in immigration detention and must be referred to the Protection of Minors services.  However, a judicial authority, the Attorney General’s office and the parent(s) of a child may agree that that a minor be detained in appropriate facilities to maintain a family unit (Global Detention Project, 2010).

This avenue has been used and as a result, Spain does detain some minors who are with their families (Steps Consulting Social, 2007). There are also reports that some Unaccompanied Minors (UAMs) whose age is suspected to be over 18 are also detained due to the perceived unreliability of the bone age test used by authorities.


Find out more:

UNHCR, Submission by the UNHCR for the OHCHRs Compilation Report Universal Periodic Review Spain, (Geneva: UNHCR, 2009).

Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, C.A.R.: Refugee Reception Centre, (Madrid: Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, 2006).

There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.

This text was published in September 2015.