21st Mar 2018

Asylum seekers create EU 'limbo' nation

  • More than 1 million living in makeshift accommodation with no right to ork (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The number of asylum seekers "in limbo" in the EU is likely to have become greater than the combined populations of Cyprus and Malta, estimates indicate.

More than 1.1 million of the 2.2 million people who sought asylum in the EU and associated countries Norway and Switzerland in 2015 and 2016 still do not know if they will get it, according to a new survey by US pollster Pew.

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At least 250,000 of the 550,000 or so people who sought protection so far this year also do not know, according to EUobserver's estimate, which applied the trend observed by Pew to 2017 figures published by Easo, the EU's asylum agency.

Pew said the limbo nation arose out of the "biggest wave" of asylum seekers that "the continent has seen since World War II".

Those waiting for a decision were typically living in "repurposed schools, hotels, or airports". They had food and medical care, but the vast majority did not have the right to work.

Pew also estimated that about 100,000 people whose applications were rejected had gone on the run in Europe and were living on the black.

Most of those still waiting for asylum decisions came from Afghanistan (240,000), Iraq (130,000), Syria (130,000), Albania (75,000), Kosovo (50,000), Iran (45,000), Pakistan (45,000), and Nigeria (40,000), Pew said.

They came to the EU via Greece and Italy, but tended to apply for refuge in Germany, Hungary, and Sweden.

Syrians were the most likely to get a swift and positive decision. People from Albania, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Serbia, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Pakistan were the most likely to be kept hanging around.

Pew noted that Germany had quite a fast turn-around time (7 months), despite having to deal with the largest numbers of applicants.

People in Norway and Sweden usually had to wait about one year for a decision. Some in Spain had to wait 18 months.

The situation was also dire in Hungary and Greece, where over 90 percent of 2015 and 2016 applicants were still waiting for a decision at the end of last year.

Pew said that many people who initially applied in Hungary were so put off by its immigration system that they moved on to Austria and Germany to try their luck.

It said that a tiny minority - just 75,000 people, accounting for 3 percent of all 2015 and 2016 applications - had so far been sent home.

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Out of sight and out of space: a volunteer documents the conditions, and the state of limbo experienced by refugees on the Greek island of Chios.

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