EU asylum applications on the rise
The number of people seeking asylum in Europe is on the rise, as conflicts and poverty force families to leave their home countries.
The EU statistics office, Eurostat, said on Friday (22 March) the EU registered 330,000 asylum seekers in 2012, up from 302,000 applicants in 2011.
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Syrian nationals are now the second most common asylum seeker in Europe, with the war pushing over 1 million refugees into neighbouring countries.
Afghans remain the top asylum applicants in the EU followed closely by Syrians, Russians, Pakistanis and Serbs.
The United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR) says nearly 22,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Europe last year. Last week, Germany announced it would accept some 5,000 Syrian refugees with the first arrivals expected in June.
Every EU member state has reported an increase of Syrian applicants, except in Greece where poor asylum conditions deprive applicants of basic rights.
Under the EU's so-called Dublin regulation, member states are entitled to send back any would-be refugee to the country where he first entered to claim asylum. The Dublin convention was introduced 15 years ago but vast divergences on the how it is applied remain.
Reports of abuse, violence, and neglect prompted the European Court of Human Rights in 2011 to rule it illegal to send refugees to Greece from another EU member state.
The Greek asylum crisis continues.
In a February letter addressed to EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom, the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) said asylum seekers in Greece “are increasingly the victims of racist attacks.”
The NGO describes the Greek asylum system as dysfunctional. A lack of access to standard asylum procedures and abusive detention conditions are still common.
The NGO notified the commissioner that Greece’s asylum policy and management could be turned over to its ministry of civil protection and public order.
The ministry is responsible for installing a 12-kilometre barbed wire fence on the Turkish border to stop migrants from crossing into the Greece.
It is also behind the operation Xenios Zeus named after the patron of hospitality and guests in Greek mythology.
Xenios Zeus saw police sweep up thousands of undocumented migrants, arrested those with no legal documents, and placed them in temporary detention centres. In November last year, rounded up undocumented migrants set fire to one of the centres in protest.