Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

EU asylum applications rise for first time since 2015 wave

  • Last year, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain received more asylum applicants than during the migration crisis in 2015 (Photo: Frontex)

Asylum applications to the EU increased for the first time last year since the migration crisis of 2015, according to the latest report from the European Asylum Support Office (Easo) on Thursday (25 June).

The Easo report shows that migration trends in the EU vary considerably from country to country, and from north to south.

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Half of all asylum applications in the EU were lodged in just three member states - namely, Germany (22 percent), France (17 percent) and Spain (16 percent).

Meanwhile, in 2019, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain received more asylum applicants than in 2015.

As of March 2020, there were a total of 836,000 pending cases from people seeking asylum.

"The facts in this report show, we must manage migration better. It is clear that some countries could contribute a lot more," said commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson at the online launch of the Easo report.

"Migration has always been here, will always be here. Our task is to manage migration in an orderly way and to protect fundamental rights," she added.

While the number of applications from Syrian nationals declined slightly in 2019 in comparison with the previous year, requests from Afghan and Venezuelan citizens increased sharply.

Venezuelan nationals lodged about 46,000 applications in 2019 - more than double than in the previous year.

Due to language and cultural connections, asylum seekers from Latin America lodged their applications mainly in Spain.

Similarly, applications by Afghans were mostly lodged in Greece, in line with increased arrivals along the Eastern Mediterranean route.

Post Covid-19 increase expected

A total of almost 912,000 people were awaiting a decision in Europe at the end of 2019.

While procedures take less than two months in some countries, many take around 17 months, and on average 25 percent of procedures in Europe takes longer than two years.

"The number of pending cases still awaiting a decision at the end of 2019 remained much higher compared to the pre-2015 level, illustrating the pressure under which asylum and reception systems are still operating," reads the report.

While the coronavirus pandemic reduced backlogs in early 2020 as a result of temporary office closures, still there were about 836,000 pending cases at the end of March.

Overall, the coronavirus and national emergency measures led to an 87 percent reduction in asylum applications in recent months.

However, asylum requests were slowly rising in May and Easo expect an increase in these numbers and the return to pre-Covid-19 trends.

"EU countries should be prepared for increases in asylum applications in the medium term, including due to the repercussions of Covid-19 on low-income countries," they said.

'Mandatory' vs quotas

The European Commission will present the long-stalled Common European Asylum System once member states reach an agreement on the bloc's long-term budget - the proposal is expected after the summer.

"I'm quite optimistic that we can reach a proposal that can be accepted and adopted. Even though I understand it is also very difficult," said commissioner Johansson.

Following the arrival of about one million people in 2015, the EU's policy-making surrounding migration has been stymied.

The commission's proposal in 2016 demanded an automated system based on quotas per member state but met stiff resistance from some countries.

Eastern European countries, particularly Hungary and Poland, oppose any mandatory system to redistribute asylum seekers across the bloc - while 'frontline' countries like Italy, Spain or Greece insist on this aspect.

Johansson said on Thursday that Europe needs a "mandatory solidarity mechanism," but the design of the new migration package is still unclear since it must satisfy all member states' positions.

Spain will reject any scheme by the commission for not including relocation quotas, Spanish newspaper El País recently reported.

Opinion

New EU migration pact must dust off fundamental rights

The EU's new Pact on Migration and Asylum is an opportunity to take a different approach. To take a breath, to remember the values that the European project was founded upon, and to dust off the good old fundamental rights.

EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration chief

The Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development is predicting possible migration flashpoints in Iran, Libya and South America over the next 12 months. Its director-general Michael Spindelegger says EU states are not prepared for a repeat of 2015.

EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex

MEPs are drumming up support for an inquiry into the EU's controversial border and coast guard agency, Frontex. So far, the Greens, the left-wing GUE, and Renew Europe are on board - amid expectations the centre-left S&D will also join.

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

How Belgian government got caught up in human smuggling

Former Belgian minister Theo Francken gave one of his party friends the power to put Syrian Christians on a list to get Belgian humanitarian visa. This week that colleague was convicted of human smuggling.

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