Who are refugees?
A refugee is someone who flees their country because their life is in danger and they are looking for protection in another country. Spanish legislation establishes that anyone outside their native country who, based on well-founded fears of being persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, political views, membership of a particular social group, being of certain sexual orientation or gender, and who cannot or, due to these fears, does not wish to be protected in that country shall be recognised as a refugee.
The right to international protection is based on the principle of non-refoulement, under Article 33(1) of the Geneva Convention of 1951: ‘No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where [their] life or freedom would be threatened on account of [their] race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?
The difference is legal. A refugee is someone who has already obtained international protection. An asylum seeker is someone who has requested it, but has not yet received a decision. Therefore, all refugees have previously been asylum seekers.
How is a migrant different?
The difference lies in the legislation that applies in each case. In the case of those seeking international protection, the applicable legislation is Act 12/2009, of 30 October, regulating the right of asylum and subsidiary protection. In contrast, all other foreigners come under Framework Act 4/2000 of 11 January on the rights and freedoms of foreign nationals in Spain and their social integration.
Refugees and migrants alike have left their country of origin or residence in search of safety. There are various reasons for their doing that, ranging from armed conflicts, internal violence and human rights’ violations to natural disasters and poverty.
The main difference is that refugees have been forced to flee their country of origin and cannot return until the situation that forced them to leave improves. Migrants have left in search of a better life and future but they are free to return.
That said, many people deemed 'economic migrants' would not be able to ensure subsistence for their families if they returned to their country. They should therefore have access to a system of international protection. As Hannah Arendt says, 'we never make a distinction between those fleeing poverty and those fleeing bombs'.
Who can apply for international protection in Spain?
Anyone who has fled their country of origin or habitual residence, or who, while abroad, is unable to return for non-economic reasons, may apply for international protection. International protection can be recognised through refugee status or subsidiary protection.
Regulatory Act 12/2009 on the Right of Asylum and Subsidiary Protection in Spain can be found at:
- Refugee Status is granted to any person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted in his or her country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, membership of a particular social group, gender or sexual orientation.
- Subsidiary protection is granted to persons who cannot return to their country of origin because they would face a real risk of suffering serious harm, such as the death penalty or execution, torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, or serious threats to their life or integrity as a result of indiscriminate violence arising from situations of internal or international conflict.
- The possibility of granting a residence permit on humanitarian grounds is foreseen when: the applicant suffers from a serious illness requiring specialised health care that is not accessible in the country of origin, or when the transfer to the country of origin implies a danger for the safety of the applicant or his/her family.
If I am provided with international protection, do I also get nationality?
No, but if you qualify for refugee status, the time limits are reduced and you can apply for refugee status in five years.
What happens if my request for international protection is rejected?
In that case, you can appeal the refusal to the competent court. If you live in Barcelona, you can go to the SAIER at Calle Tarragona 141, so that they can inform you of your options and arrange an appointment with a lawyer.
Is it easy to get asylum? Who decides?
Asylum policy is the sole responsibility of the State and falls within the remit of the Ministry of the Interior. It has to be applied for, and applicants must undergo in-depth interviews and wait some time before finding out whether their application has been accepted.
What are the benefits of the state programme?
Requesting international protection is a legal process that does not confer any social benefits.
Those with no resources of their own who are claiming asylum can turn to the state programme once their application has been accepted.
The programme is managed by social bodies and NGOs through a competitive call for subsidies from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. The programme consists of three stages, divided up according to the level of assistance received by those attended to. Before starting the programme, there is an assessment and referral stage (stage 0) to evaluate the asylum seeker’s profile and needs in order to refer them to the appropriate resources. This is explained in the Government’s ‘Manual for the Reception and Integration System for Asylum Seekers and Beneficiaries of International Protection’.
Once this assessment has taken place, the three-phase integration process can begin.
The reception stage (first stage) consists of entering a reception centre or facility and trying to meet the applicant’s basic needs from the time they arrive (accommodation and subsistence, social intervention, psychological care, training, interpretation and translation, and legal advice).
The integration stage (second stage) begins when people finish their stay in the reception facility and require ongoing support. This is mainly carried out through social intervention and financial aid and is always in the same regional community where the processing of the application began.
Processing can be completed with a third phase in which the recipient may need temporary or sporadic help in specific areas.
Refugees have an advantage over other migrant residents as they are automatically granted the right to work and they can apply for citizenship after five years rather than ten.
What happens if the State refuses to grant them asylum?
Many people seeking international protection cannot return to their countries of origin because their lives would be in danger. Just because applicants are refused protection does not mean it is safe for them to return. This turns them into immigrants without papers in order and without legal protection, unless they have some type of residence permit.
And what does the City Council do?
Asylum does not fall within the remit of the City Council. Since 1989, however, the Service Centre For Immigrants, Emigrants And Refugees (SAIER), which is managed by the City Council together along with several the city’s specialist social bodies, has been providing help and advice to refugees. It is the point of access for the state reception programme and covers any shortfall as it is responsible for basic requirements and care of the most vulnerable during Stage 0 until they can access the programme.
On the other hand, there are other services and projects intended for migrants and refugees.
SAIER is the point of access for social care for people who arrive in Barcelona via their own means, both individuals and families. There is a constant trickle of arrivals and there has been an exponential increase in the last few years. The reasons for coming are very varied and depend on different factors, such as conflict or violence in the country of origin, or even the opening or closure of formal and informal entry routes.
Either way, beyond the number of places available in the state or municipal temporary accommodation network, which reflects the number of people receiving social care, data on those with refugee or international protection status cannot be extracted from the municipal register and so it is only possible to estimate the numbers.
Barcelona guarantees the rights of all city residents, regardless of their legal status, and uses inclusion on the municipal register as a way for them to access local services.
All minors living in Barcelona must go to school if they are of compulsory-education age. Their incorporation into the education system does not undermine its quality; quite the reverse, as diversity is a positive value that contributes towards the education of young people and children. A prerequisite for enrolling with a school is registration with the “padró” [municipal register of residents]; if you have not processed it, you will need to do it as soon as possible.
People seeking international protection are immediately entitled to receive an individual health card (TSI) and general health care.
You can help in various ways. Read some ideas we have put together using suggestions from social organisations. They will give you some guidance on the best ways you can help.
It falls to institutions and professionals to cover the basic needs (food and accommodation) and provide psychosocial assistance for these people, but they still need to be supported along the processes for encouraging their independence and incorporation into everyday social life. The Catalan Federation of Social Volunteering provides this form for channelling requests for participation.
Check out the Barcelona City Council services offering assistance to the refugees here.
Where can I apply for asylum?
To apply for asylum in Barcelona, you must make an appointment through this link with the Asylum and Refuge Office, located at Passeig de Sant Joan, 189. Metro L4 Joanic (yellow line).
Likewise, asylum can also be requested at border entry points, ports, airports and in alien internment centres (CIE).
Can I apply for asylum from abroad?
The Spanish Asylum Act provides for the possibility that Spanish ambassadors abroad may promote the transfer of an applicant for international protection who has gone to the diplomatic representation alleging a danger to his or her physical integrity, as long as he or she is not a national of the country where he or she is.
How does the asylum application procedure start?
The first step is to make an appointment at the Asylum and Refugee Office (ARO) in Barcelona to make the application through this link.
On the day of the appointment, you will be given an expression of willingness to submit an application for international protection with a date for an individual interview.
During that interview, they may ask for personal details, family details, travel itinerary and reasons for seeking international protection (reasons for fleeing). You will have to explain it in detail and in chronological order, present the identity documents you have and the supporting documents. You will be provided with proof of submission of the application for international protection and your fingerprints will be taken.
What steps will my asylum application take?
Phase 1. Acceptance for processing. Within one month, the ARO will inform the person if his or her application has not been accepted. If the applicant has not been contacted during this month, the application will be considered to have been accepted for processing.
If you have submitted your application at a border crossing point, the authorities have up to four days to decide whether to accept it for processing.
Phase 2. Investigation. The ARO will examine your successful application in depth.
Phase 3. Resolution. Once the application has been studied, you will be informed of its resolution.
Remember that the EU Member State of first arrival is responsible for processing international protection. Therefore, if you have entered the EU via Spain, you will have to apply in Spain.
Is the process confidential?
Yes. Everyone who talks to you (civil servants, police, interpreters, lawyers, etc.) is obliged to keep your details and everything you say confidential.
It is important to know that your application will never be communicated to the government of your home country or country of origin.
Can I be assisted by a lawyer and an interpreter?
Yes. Applicants for international protection are entitled both to free legal assistance and to be provided with an interpreter.
Barcelona City Council has a Care Service for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER in Spanish), where you can get advice on how to apply. You can request an appointment at the service through this link.
What does the application for international protection entitle me to?
Being an applicant for international protection gives you the right to stay in Spain while your application is being processed. Any process of refoulement and expulsion from the country is suspended. You also have the right to receive legal assistance and health care, to access the state reception programme and to be documented as an applicant for international protection.
What documents will I obtain?
The first document you will have is the Expression of Willingness to Apply for International Protection. This paper already states the day on which the interview will take place (formalising the application) and the place, the identity details of the person concerned, his/her photograph and the documents that he/she will have to present at the interview.
Once the interview has been completed, proof of submission for international protection will be handed over. It is a document that identifies you as an applicant for international protection and has a duration of one month, which can be extended for a further eight months. This is a provisional document pending consideration of the application submitted. Six months after the application, this document grants a permit to work.
After nine months, you will have to renew it and you will be issued with a red card. This document identifies you as an applicant for international protection and allows you to stay and work in state territory for six months. It is a provisional document pending consideration of the application submitted.
Applicants for status of stateless persons have a green document with photo and an identity number for foreign nationals (NIE), but are not authorised to work.
Who will decide my case and when?
The Spanish Government is the sole competent authority on asylum and refugee matters. It will be decided by the Spanish Ministry of Interior, on the proposal of the Interministerial Asylum and Refugee Committee (CIAR in Spanish).
What social benefits will I receive?
The Spanish Government has a social care programme for applicants for international protection who do not have the financial resources to cover their basic needs.
To be eligible for the programme, you must have initiated your application for international protection within the first six months of your arrival on EU territory.
To access the programme, as long as you live in the province of Barcelona, you can request an appointment with the SAIER through this link, where they will inform you about the process.
You should bear in mind that this is a state reception system, with places throughout Spain, and it is the Spanish government that will assign you your place, regardless of where you have initiated the procedure for applying for international protection.
Am I entitled to the family extension?
Yes, as long as your decision has been favourable (refugee status or subsidiary protection). Persons eligible for the family extension can be: the spouse or partner, first-degree ascendants who can prove dependency and first-degree descendants who are minors. Other family members provided that dependency and previous cohabitation in the country of origin or provenance is sufficiently established.
Is there specific social aid (housing, grants etc.,) for refugees? How can it be requested?
Those with no resources of their own and who are claiming asylum can access the state programme once their application has been accepted, but there is no other specific aid.
The City Council has the Barcelona Social Emergency and Urgent Care Centre (CUESB). A permanent and universal service that attends to any social emergency situation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and which guarantees coverage of the basic needs for everyone arriving without resources. The telephone number is: 900703030.
Can I take in refugees in my home?
The people coming to Barcelona will not need to be lodged with the city’s families during the initial stages. The state’s host programme covers their needs for the first few months and provides them with professional support for settling down and starting their new life project.
It is here, during the later stages, that there is a host programme for these individuals. If you are interested in providing accommodation and you would like to find out how to do that, please ask for further information from email@example.com.
Can we take children into our home?
The Government of Catalonia is responsible for children refugees.
If you want to collaborate with the reception of a child, you will need to contact the Directorate-General for Child and Adolescent Care (DGAIA) and explain that you are interested in doing this.
You can call 116 111 or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note too that there are families in Barcelona, many of whom are migrants and refugees, who temporarily need, due to various circumstances, collaboration from others to look after their children.
We invite you to find out about the Collaborating Families Service, a municipal family-support project that also requires city-resident involvement.