Blog post by Anca Crețu and Dr. Bjarney Friðriksdóttir, researchers at the Human Rights Institute, University of Deusto, and forms part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.




The report submitted by the Spanish Government for the UN Network on Migration regional review of the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) in the ECE region does not provide in depth information on how each of the 23 objectives of the GCM are being implmented. Basically, it states the Government‘s assessment that before the adoption of the GCM “Spain’s migration policy already complied with many of the elements that the Pact would incorporate in its wording,” and that  the GCM’s objectives and guiding principles  “are present in the daily implementation of the Spanish migratory policy.” Additionally, it provides that the Government does not exclude the possibility of developing a national implementation plan, but that so far, Spain fulfils “the recommendations of the GCM in a horizontal and transversal way.”


In the report to the UNECE, a reference is made to a report that the Government of Spain submitted to the Secretary General of the United Nations in June 2020.[1] This report has not been made publicly available, however most of the substantive information provided below on the implementation of the GCM in Spain is taken from this report.


Positive Developments


In 2018 and 2019, the Government took some measures related to various objectives of the GCM that constitute positive developments. In September 2018, Spain ratified the United Nations Convention on Stateless Persons, in line with Objective 4. With the adoption of Royal Decree 7/2018, Spanish law stipulates that all migrants, regardless of their migration and/or administrative status shall have access to all the services of the national health system. This is in line with Objective 15 of the GCM to Provide access to basic services for migrants. Implementing Objective 17 of the GCM, the Government established in 2019 a National Office for Combating Hate Crimes and set forth an action plan with 47 measures to combat hate crimes to be implemented by 2021. An internet website with contact information and guidelines and protocols for reporting hate crimes has been set up. The information provided is in Spanish, English, French, Romanian and Arabic. Currently, the office is conducting online surveys to map hate crimes in Spain.


Development Cooperation


Spain’s development cooperation strategy focuses primarily on Middle Income Countries in Latin America. The last DAC Peer Review of Development Co-operation from 2016, stated that there is no evidence or data that explains why Spain focuses its ODA efforts on a particular group of 23 Middle Income Countries. Following the growing trend in EU Cooperation Policies as regards Africa, a progressive increase of orientation of ODA towards security objectives is evident in Spain’s case. In the Principled Aid Index 2020, an index developed by the Overseas Development Institute that examines how donor countries spend ODA to pursue their own strategic interests, Spain ranks in the bottom half of donors in all dimensions (development gaps, global cooperation and public spiritedness).


The security-development nexus as regards Africa is tilted more towards the former. Although indications of this focus on security are found in policy discourses since the beginning of this century, the so-called ‘migration crisis’ has markedly shifted European Development Cooperation policies, augmenting the allocation of funds to security objectives rather than the more urgent ones such as poverty reduction. Under the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (which has been stripped from the European development fund and focuses on controlling irregular migration), the AECID (Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation) is leading several projects in Africa with a budget of more than 180 million euros. For example, in Senegal and Mali, the AECID leads projects aimed at strengthening “the management and governance of migration and sustainable return and reintegration.” In Morocco, FIIAPP (International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies) leads migration-related projects with a budget of 44 million euros.


Spain’s report on the implementation of the GCM provides that “Spain works actively to contribute to addressing the root causes of migration, to contribute to the objective of fostering the development and strengthening of state capacities and public services in countries of origin.” The preoccupation with reducing the “root causes of migration” in Africa is curious in the case of Spain. According to a report published by the porCausa Foundation in 2020, four out of five migrants that enter Spain irregularly come from Central and South America (77%). Out of the total number of irregular migrants living in Spain, 9,2% come from Africa (around 43 000 people). Out of those, more than half come from one country – Morocco. Commenting on this, Gonzalo Fanjul, head of research at porCausa Foundation opines that: “the obsession with ‘root causes’ prevents development agencies from concentrating their efforts on building a more open, orderly and safe model of human mobility. An effort whose potential contribution to the reduction of poverty and global inequalities has few parallels in the field of development policies. From a poverty reduction perspective, the narrative underpinning this system is not only immoral; it is proving to be self-defeating.”


Border Measures


Addressing Objective 8 of the GCM – Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants, the Government states that it “maintains secure border crossing points at its land borders. Safe and secure transit is ensured by the large number of border posts available, good neighbourly relations and extraordinary cooperation with the customs and police authorities of neighbouring countries.”


This statement stands in stark contrast to the border fences in Ceuta and Melilla, which are ten metres high after a profound reform in 2020. The Interior Department argues that it aims to build a ‘safer’ and less ‘cruel’ fence for those trying to cross it. The ten metres high “security structure” erected at the “most sensitive” points of both borders has a base of metal bars and plates, attached to which is barbed wire. At the top of the fence, sharp metal blades have been replaced by an “anti-climbing” cylinder on the side facing Spanish territory. On the outwards facing side of the fences in Morocco, one of the “good neighbours” with whom Spain cooperates on migration governance, barbed wire is still a part of the fences and an installation of new sharp metal blades was completed in 2020. Moroccan soldiers have a permanent presence in front of the fences.


The Government states that “saving lives and providing dignified assistance to those who have experienced risks to their lives at sea is a priority for Spain. Spain ensures dignified treatment and reception, respectful of human rights, for all persons rescued at sea.” The current situation in the island of Gran Canaria however does not ensure dignified treatment and reception for the thousands of migrants that have arrived there by boat and are subjected to restriction of movement by the Spanish Government. Several organisations report that hate speech against migrants has incited physical threats and attacks on migrants by reportedly frightened inhabitants convinced that they must protect their children, women and property from an ‘invasion’. Cases of armed citizens taking the law into their own hands in various neighbourhoods of the island have been reported.


In July 2020, a ruling of the Supreme Court on asylum seekers admitted for processing, which addressed the limitation of freedom of movement throughout the national territory in Ceuta and Melilla, established that limiting the movement of asylum seekers from enclaves outside the Peninsula is against the law. The Ombudsman has also reminded the Interior Ministry that asylum seekers have the right to move freely within Spain. In a report to the Spanish Parliament, the Ombudsman reiterates that the legal duty incumbent upon the Government “is to prevent any limitations on the fundamental rights to free movement and residence of applicants for international protection who wish to move from the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla or from the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands to the Peninsula.” On April 14, a judicial decree from an Administrative Court in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was made public; the decree states that a migrant who proves his/her identity with a passport or an application for international protection may travel from the island to the Peninsula as long as he/she complies with COVID measures. The national police is not authorized to arrest him/her in order to prevent movement to mainland Spain.


Concerning Objective 9 of the GCM – Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants, the Government highlights two lines of action: prevention and cooperation with third-countries (origin and transit). In this regard, “the Ministry of Interior develops transnational cooperation projects in particular with the Maghreb and West African countries. The main areas of cooperation in these projects are international police cooperation and capacity building of third countries in the management and control of safe, orderly and regular migration flows.” Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Morocco are prioritized. Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, there have been several visits to countries like Mauritania and Senegal with the aim of engaging in “cooperation regarding irregular migration.” A study by the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) from February 2021, based on reports of refugees, migrants and key informants focuses on experiences of interception and forced return. According to the study, no mechanisms were identified to ensure “that deportees have met the criteria of return”. Nor does there seem to be oversight or accompaniment of the process by which deportees from the Canary Islands are expelled from Mauritania. Refugees and migrants returned to Senegal and Mali are “left at the respective borders without further support.”


Migrants in situations of vulnerability


Objective 7 of the GCM focuses on addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in migration. In its report the Government focuses on two groups that are prioritized in addressing vulnerabilities, those are women in a situation of special vulnerability and unaccompanied minors.


The estimated number of domestic workers in Spain is 700 000. Most of them are women with a migrant background and around 40% are in an irregular administrative situation and were therefore not entitled to receive the Minimum Vital Income, a financial support scheme put in place during the first wave of the COVID pandemic, in order to ensure income for persons in the most vulnerable sectors of the population. Migrant workers with irregular administrative statuses live in hardship which is accentuated by COVID. Domestic workers were made to work seven days of the week preparing food, doing laundry, ironing and/or taking care of children. Overtime hours were not paid, no measures for social distancing were in place and they were exposed to various forms of harassment. Several Civil Society Organisations have criticised that since the start of the ‘COVID state of alarm’, thousands of women domestic workers have been fired without compensation and most of them have not received any assistance. They have organized to demand urgent measures such as emergency subsidies, the regularization of migrants and the recognition of labour rights, to no avail so far. Spain has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and ILO Convention Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189).


In 2014 the Government approved a Framework Protocol on certain actions in relation to Unaccompanied Foreign Minors. This protocol stipulates that “the policy on unaccompanied foreign minors must be oriented towards the return of the minor to his/her country of origin.” Unaccompanied migrant minors present in Spain, are under the tutelage of the Autonomous Communities in which they live. In the majority of cases, they are expelled from the housing centres provided by the authorities when they turn 18 years old and are left without alternatives for housing or sustenance.


In Melilla, around 100 children are not permitted to attend school. Most of them were born in Melilla to parents of Moroccan origin who do not have a legal residence permit in Spain. In order to enrol in a school, children are required to be registered, which is difficult to achieve without having a residence permit. This creates a vicious circle that effectively makes schooling for these minors impossible. The situation in Ceuta is the same and these two communities are anomalies in Spain, in all other parts of the country education is guaranteed for children under 16 years old no matter what their administrative status is.




Reporting on the implementation of the GCM in Spain, the Government claims that it embraces the UN’s comprehensive concept of ‘human security’, which underlines “the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair… to have equal opportunities to enjoy all their rights and to develop their full human potential.” Although this assessment is accurate in some respects we have chosen to highlight policies and practices in migration governance in Spain that compromise and/or threaten the security and enjoyment of rights of migrants and refugees. In addition to the issues addressed in the above, the status and treatment of migrant workers in the agricultural sector in Spain is also of grave concern as documented in the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in 2020. Given the multiple instances of non-compliance with the principles and objectives of the GCM in Spain’s migration policy and practice, a more critical examination, in particular as regards human rights compliance, is of essence.    



[1] Progress Report on the National Implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by the Kingdom of Spain MIGRATION.    



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