The European Union received 966,000 asylum requests over the course of last year, a rise of more than 50% compared to 2021.
Syrians, Afghans, Turks, Venezuelans and Colombians made up the largest groups of applicants seeking international protection across the bloc, Norway and Switzerland.
The final number, released by EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA) on Wednesday morning, represents the highest figure since 2016 when over 1.2 million applications were lodged and exceeds the estimate previously given by the European Commission, which had put the 2022 total at 924,000.
The stats are poised to influence the political debate brewing among member states, which are still at loggerheads over the question of relocation and resettlement. Instead, governments have decided to focus their energy on external relations, where agreement is proven easier to find.
In their last summit in Brussels, leaders struck a hard line on migration and threatened to use visa permits, trade flows and development aid as leverages against non-EU countries that fail to take back unsuccessful asylum-seekers.
The bloc is increasingly concerned about the growth in applications from countries of origin that are traditionally considered “safe” – although the concept of “safe” is disputed by civil society and varies across national legislations.
The asylum agency said requests hit the highest levels “on record” for a wide range of nationalities in 2022, including citizens from India, Burundi, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peru, Moldova, Yemen, Belarus and Cuba.
Meanwhile, Turks, Venezuelans, Colombians, Bangladeshis and Georgians applied “the most” since at least 2008, the EUAA said in a press release, while there were “substantially” more requests from Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo – four countries that are seeking EU membership.
Drops in applications were “rare,” the agency added, but were still detected in migrants from certain countries, such as those from Mali and Senegal.
Some of these asylum-seekers, like Indians, Burundians, Turks and Tunisians, are believed to have used visa-free travel to the Western Balkans and then crossed into EU territory.
“All Western Balkans partners should align their visa policy with the EU as a matter of priority,” said a European Commission spokesperson.
The 2022 figures excluded the vast majority of the four million Ukrainian refugees who have fled Russia’s war and whose applications were treated separately through the Temporary Protection Directive.
Under international law, asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their country of origin, such as sexual violence, torture, discrimination and inhumane treatment.
In 2022, EU countries, Norway and Switzerland issued 147,000 decisions granting refugee status and 106,000 decisions granting subsidiary protection.
Together, they represent 40% of all the 632,000 first-instance decisions issued last year by national authorities, meaning that a huge share of asylum-seekers saw their requests rejected.
Still, the rate of positive decisions presents extreme variations among nationalities: 94% for Syrians, 84% for Yemen, 54% for Afghans, 38% for Turks, 7% for Albanians and just 1% for Vietnams, North Macedonians, Indians and Moldovans.
The EUAA said that some asylum-seekers, like Venezuelans, could have received humanitarian protection under national law, but these decisions do not add to the yearly figures because they are not considered part of the Common European Asylum System.
By the end of November, the EU, Norway and Switzerland had over 950,000 asylum cases still pending in all instances, including requests lodged in previous years that are still being processed.
European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria have in recent months warned that their reception systems are under strain due to the continued arrival of asylum-seekers and the mounting load of pending cases.
But the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) recommends caution when reading the migration stats and insists the numbers are “manageable” and should be seen as a “normal” reaction to the lifting of pandemic-era travel restrictions.
Coincidentally, on the same day the EUAA released the 2022 stats, the European Commission registered a citizens’ initiative to develop a new system for the voluntary distribution of asylum seekers through the bloc, based on the concept of “effective solidarity.”
If the initiative receives more than one million signatures from at least seven different member states, the executive will be forced to decide whether to move forward with the proposal or not.
The EU already has in place a voluntary scheme for the transfer of asylum-seekers but the scheme has so far resulted in 514 relocations out of 8,000 annual pledges.
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