Applications for Asylum Fell to Lowest Levels Since 2013, Coronavirus Blamed

A protester holds a flag reading "Refugees welcome" during a demonstration for the evacuation of all migrant camps in Greece after the fire at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, on September 20, 2020 in Berlin. (Photo by STEFANIE LOOS / AFP) (Photo by STEFANIE LOOS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Applications for asylum in European Union and associated states collapsed to a seven-year low in 2020, with coronavirus-imposed travel restrictions suggesting that some level of border control is, in fact, possible.

Some 461,3000 applications for asylum were lodged across the EU, Norway, and Switzerland in 2020 — a 31 per cent fall from 2019 and taking numbers to levels not seen since 2013, before the migrant crisis in the middle of the last decade.

The European Union blamed the decrease in applications on Covid-related “emergency measures, such as movement restrictions”.

Despite the significant fall, the reduction was not uniform, with arrivals from particular areas and at certain times of the year taking greater hits. Asylum applications from countries like Iran and Georgia fell much faster than the average, going down 61 per cent in 2020.

Syria was more stable, falling just nine per cent — perhaps a feature of the nationality’s 84 per cent asylum success rate, a reflection of Syrians getting preferential asylum treatment in Europe, driving some to lie about their identities to improve their chances — while others actually rose.

Cubans, Brazilians, and Belarussians all saw higher numbers of arrivals last year, even though all three are from countries for whom the vast majority of applicants have their asylum claims rejected by European nations. Not that such figures may worry potential asylum seekers, however. As the European Commissioner for Migration Ylva Johansson admitted last week, just a third of rejected asylum seekers actually go home.

While applications through 2019 ran between 40,000 and 60,000 a month, 2020 was much less uniform. A massive collapse in the first few months of the year saw first-time applications at just 7,500 in April 2020, but they soon rose and levelled off again at around 38,000 a month for the rest of the year as the initial lockdowns wore off around Europe.

The European Asylum Support Office, a body founded in 2010 to ensure “practical cooperation between Member States on matters related to asylum”, put a positive spin on the serious fall in their key metric, noting the fall in applications over the year meant national governments were able to work through some of the considerable backlogs of historical asylum application cases.

Nevertheless, by the end of the year, there were still over 412,000 pending asylum applications Europe-wide, a fall of just 17 per cent from the year before.

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