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4th Mar 2024

Anti-asylum election rhetoric spurs arrivals, says migrant chief

  • War and global conflict will drive more people to seek protection in the EU in 2024, says the ICMPD (Photo: UNRWA)
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Extremist political messaging on clamping down on asylum ahead of elections may actually drive more people towards Europe, says a Vienna-based institute.

Michael Spindelegger, who leads the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), says people will attempt to arrive in the EU before any promised electoral crackdown against asylum seekers are imposed.

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"We know because we are dealing with the countries of origin and that potential migrants are looking at this very seriously," he said in comments to EUobserver on Wednesday (16 January).

Germany is currently grappling with a far-right electoral surge by the Alternative for Germany (AfD), amidst recently reported secret meetings of their party officials with the fascist right Identity movement to deport millions of German citizens.

The AfD is now Germany's second-most popular party, according to polls. But the anti-migrant rhetoric also goes beyond the EU.

A Donald Trump US presidential win in November may also entice more nationals from Venezuela and Colombia to file asylum in the EU, says Spindelegger.

"They don't need a visa to go there [Spain]," he said of the two nationalities — which already rank in the top five asylum claims throughout the EU.

Spindelegger's comments also came ahead of the centre's annual report, which predicts intensified global conflicts will drive more people to seek protection in EU member states throughout the next 12 months.

In a broader global context, the vast majority of people seeking protection and refuge do not go to Europe but remain in neighbouring countries.

With over 3.4 million refugee and similar people in need of protection, Iran last year became the second-largest refugee hosting country globally, after Turkey.

And according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the 46 least-developed countries hosted more than 20 percent of all refugees despite accounting for less than 1.3 percent of global gross domestic product.

Yet the ICMPD's prediction also comes as countries like Pakistan, Iran, Algeria and Tunisia crack down on their own migrant populations amid xenophobic discourse that endangers already vulnerable people.

The trend, according to recent figures issued by the EU's border guard agency Frontex, appears to corroborate the ICMPD predictions given that the number of detected irregular entries into the EU reached approximately 380,000 last year, the highest since 2016.

The figure refers to detections, not individuals. It means one person may have been 'detected' multiple times.

But this also comes on the back of almost one million asylum applications filed last year, also the highest since 2016. Most came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan, Venezuela, Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Each is wrecked by its own particular crises, spanning conflicts, economic hardships, and often repressive regimes and policies.

The Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance, had issued some 50 edicts, orders, and restrictions over the span of two years since returning to power in Kabul.

This includes banning women and girls from education, forcing them to wear full-body coverings when in public, and denying them access to gyms, public baths, public parks, and amusement parks.

Gaza and Israel

The Israeli war siege of the Gaza Strip has only added to the woes as Palestinians face an unprecedented onslaught that has killed nearly 25,000 in indiscriminate bombing raids and land offensives.

Some are likely to flee, possibly through Egypt and then into Libya before taking boats towards Europe, says Spindelegger.

But many Palestinians inside Gaza are also unlikely to leave out of fear of a permanent displacement repeat similar to "Nakba" [catastrophe] in 1948 where some 700,000 were forced out of their homes.

Reports are now emerging that Palestinians are being pushed back by Greek authorities, according to the Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian-based NGO.

Despite their stateless status, EU states issued just under 5,000 positive decisions granting Palestinians some sort of protection last year, according to the EU's statical office, Eurostat.

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