8th Dec 2023

Treat EU asylum stats 'with caution', warn NGOs

  • Conflicts in place such as Syria (the top source of asylum claims) continue to push people to seek asylum and shelter elsewhere (Photo: Reuters/Abdalrhman Ismail)
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EU-wide recognition rates for asylum seekers, including Norway and Switzerland, hovers at 40 percent.

The figure, cited on Wednesday (22 February) by the Malta-based European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), is the highest in five years.

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But the true figure is likely higher, because the rate does not include appeals. And it does not cover humanitarian status granted by national authorities.

"Unfortunately, the data on decisions at appeal level is not yet complete for the year at this early stage, so we cannot provide such information yet," said Anis Cassar, EUAA spokesperson, in an email.

The distinction is important because the European Commission and other EU leaders have used a similar rate to drum up support for tighter border controls and offshoring responsibility to countries outside Europe.

"The fact is that the majority of those who apply for asylum are not in need for protection," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, earlier this month, ahead of the EU summit on migration.

"It seems like 60 percent will have a negative asylum decision," echoed EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johannson, in January.

But the European Council on Refugee and Exiles (ECRE), a Brussels-based umbrella group, disputes that.

They say that a further 10 percent are being granted protection statuses under national law, while one-third of those that appeal end up winning their case.

That is also an important distinction when it comes to Afghans. The EUAA say their asylum recognition rate was only 54 percent, down from 66 percent in 2021.

But they also note that "the decline was mainly due to more decision-granting humanitarian status under national law."

In other words, the 40 percent recognition rate is likely to be higher when one factors in appeals and other forms of national protection status.

ECRE also warns that EU asylum figures often mask the poor quality of asylum determination procedures in Europe.

Greece, for instance, will not look at the merit of some cases and dismissed some 9,000 applications amid claims that Turkey is safe enough for their return — despite the fact Ankara is forcibly deporting people back to Syria and Afghanistan.

It also means a person who lodges an application for asylum in one EU state, may have had an entirely different outcome in another.

At 966,000, the number of applications lodged last year are almost double those of 2021 and the most since 2016. Of those some 43,000 applicants claimed to be unaccompanied minors, the most since 2015.

Contextualised, the total population of the hosting European states is more than 450 million.

And most of the world's refugees and other people in need of international protection are actually found in much poorer states outside Europe, according to the UN refugee agency.

But the recent spike in asylum seekers in Europe is also partly due to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions as well as ongoing conflicts and food insecurity in many regions of origin, said the EUAA.

Most of the claims were lodged by Syrians (132,000) and Afghans (129,000), followed by Turks (55,000), Venezuelans (51,000) and Colombians (43,000) . Another four million Ukrainians are also being sheltered in Europe.

Syrians were one of the top three nationalities detected mainly along the Western Balkans, Central Mediterranean and Eastern Mediterranean Routes, according to the EU's border agency Frontex.

Their asylum recognition rates was 94 last year; the highest since 2017.

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