Europe, Globe, Human Rights, Migrants, Politiks

Detention of immigrants in Spain: a nightmare

The Immigration Detention Centres in Spain remain at the eye of the storm following the death of a young Guinean man a few weeks ago, and meanwhile continue to wait for regulation on their inner workings.

Javier Duque

Last January 6th a young Guinean man died due to a heart attack in a DCI. His companions maintain that on the same afternoon he said he felt ill but did not receive attention. After the incident, and as a means of protest, they began a hunger strike. A lack of medical care and a shortage of translators, sadly common problems in such centres, seem to be behind the death.

The Immigration Detention Centres (DCIs) accept individuals who have neither been detained nor are free. They are public facilities which exist in juridical limbo as those who remain imprisoned there have not committed a crime.

Only an administrative offence: they have violated the Immigration Act; the same act which provides regulation for the internal management of these centres and which has not yet been fully implemented.

More than two years after a reform of this law – December 2009 -, the issue is still pending and has raised questions about the DCIs for their alleged violations of the most fundamental human rights of those there.

The DCIs hold those who are arrested for being undocumented and who are waiting to be deported from the country or released. However, they can remain in the centres for sixty days in police custody.

Nobody knows the number of people deprived of their liberty as there is no official data but according to the calculations of NGOs, in 2009 there were 16,000 inmates in the state’s nine DCIs.

Of these, 49% have not ultimately been deported from the country;  as such the data demonstrates that the legal objective of these centres, deportation, is not even achieved in half of all cases.

Internal Situation

The dire conditions of the DCIs have been denounced by international organisations, by NGOs and there also judges’ rulings which makes them evident.

Abuses, sub-standard medical care, illegal transfers, lack of respect for visitors, poor hygiene… these are some of the shortcomings which have been exposed by associations which work with the immigrants together with other institutions such as the Ombudsman and the European Parliament.

However, this situation is only exposed to public opinion when a death occurs, such as happened in the case described here.

The same fate befell another young woman who lost her life at the end of December, seven days after leaving the centre in Aluche due to meningitis.

A court order confirmed that there are neither individual, nor double, nor triple rooms in these centres; and that the rooms are completely inappropriate as they lack toilets.

The order also stated that it is not surprising that infectious diseases spread so easily, and also stressed that there are no rooms where the sick can be isolated from healthy persons to avoid infection in these centres.

At the beginning of December 2011, some inmates declared a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of their imprisonment concerning the food and facilities, and for the personal and family situations of some inmates.

According to one complaint, riot police arrived at dawn and forced the inmates to go down to the yard with their arms in the air in the rain, where they stayed for about an hour and a half.

Alejandro, an Ecuadorian, spent 60 days in Aluche. He says that it was very difficult and that two months without leaving the centre is too much. He assures that he and his countrymen agreed that they would rather return to their country than return there for one day. “I’ve never been in prison but some people I know have and they say that there is better communication, better treatment from the police and better food”, he adds.

Management of the DCIs

While in prison, the functions of custody and care of prisoners are managed by specialised staff, but the DCIs are run by members of the National Police Corps who, frequently, are fresh from the academy. As such, they don’t receive any training to make it clear that the inmates are not criminals.

This ignorance on one side and what is sometimes a poor attitude on the other, can provoke abusive situations such as in the case of the Bolivian Cristian Mercado.

He was detained for having no papers and, after a quick trial, he was transferred to a DCI. After many weeks, and without warning, the Police took him to the airport in Barajas to return him to his country. He refused to go and, according to his daughter’s mother, they beat him so that he would not resist again.

As for family visits for inmates there is also controversy.  In some centres, such as in Valencia and Madrid, there are glass screens which only come down for greetings. Then they go up again and conversations take place by telephone.

For his part, the new Secretary of State for Security, Ignacio Ulloa, has confirmed that the development of internal regulation for these centres is one of his priorities.

Whatever the case may be, what is certain is that article 10 of the Spanish Constitution has apparently been forgotten in these centres: “The dignity of the person, their inviolable and inalienable rights, the free development of the personality, the respect for the law and for the rights of others are the foundation of political order and social peace”.

(Translated by Mark Stokes – Email:

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