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Illegal immigration in Spain - statistics & facts

Due to its geographical location - barely 13 kilometers from the African continent at its narrowest point - and its relationship with Latin American countries, Spain has traditionally been a destination for a large number of immigrants, both through legal and unauthorized means. But what exactly is an illegal, irregular or undocumented immigrant? This term refers to anyone who accesses a country without the required legal authorization - even if their final destination is a country other than Spain - or who, having entered legally, lacks the relevant authorization to stay longer. In the case of Spain, this type of migration usually occurs either by sea (Mediterranean or Canary Islands), or by land (Northern African cities of Ceuta and Melilla).

A journey not without risk

The dangers of the journey or the possibility of being discovered and deported do not seem to discourage those who wish to start a better life on the Old Continent. In fact, the end of the second decade and the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century saw an uptick of this phenomenon, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the migration measures that Morocco and Spain agreed on.

However, some immigrants might find the destination of their dangerous journey is worse than they anticipated. When an illegal entry is detected, immigrants are expected at the border and sometimes returned immediately after their arrival, with large numbers being admitted to specialized detention centers. Many are then returned or deported, but some are released in the country, which leads in most cases to years of battling the legal system to obtain a residence permit.

MENA: The dilemma of unaccompanied minors

Spain is also experiencing an increasing number of arrivals of undocumented and unaccompanied minors (Menores Extranjeros No Acompañados in Spanish or MENA). Most of these underage immigrants turn up at the Spanish coasts in boats, and they are predominantly from Morocco, the Republic of Guinea or Algeria. When detected, most of them will be taken to MENA centers or allocated in foster families, but there are also many reported cases of minors who break out of their new homes and fall prey to crime, labor exploitation or even human trafficking.

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