Archive photo of refugees fleeing unrest in Libya being given bread at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, Tunisia, 1 March 2011 | Photo: EPA/Ciro Fusco
Archive photo of refugees fleeing unrest in Libya being given bread at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, Tunisia, 1 March 2011 | Photo: EPA/Ciro Fusco

A report published by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) says that there could be increases in asylum applications in the EU in the future. The document highlights that the threat of the novel coronavirus spreading in lower income countries could lead to a rise in migration.

The spread of COVID-19 has thus far concentrated in the developed world. Travel bans and other measures have severely driven down the number of asylum applications being lodged in Europe. According to EASO data published on 30 April 2020, there’s been a 43% decline in asylum applications since the beginning of the public health crisis.

Within that context, EASO found that in general, countries that implemented the biggest number of emergency measures since March 2020 also had the largest fall in application numbers. Countries like Greece even put a temporary freeze on asylum applications while addressing the pandemic situation.

However, EASO fears there might be a reversal in the trend, as low and lower-middle income countries may be at higher risk of latent COVID-19 outbreaks -- especially those with domestic problems that might drive people into migration.

Poorer public health conditions as cause of migration

The document says that the main countries of origin of applicants for asylum in the EU (such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) have medium to high vulnerability to hazards -- including infectious diseases. 

EASO said that these countries also typically suffer from a lack of coping capacity for pandemics such as fewer hospital beds and medical doctors per capita as well as limited access to hand-washing facilities, crowded living conditions and low levels of literacy.

Read more: Coronavirus no deterrent for African migrants dreaming of reaching Europe

Security risks in the Middle East

At the same time, EASO notes that the current suspension of global security and aid operations in the Middle East has left a power gap that could be exploited by terror groups like the Islamic State (IS), which already operating in socially isolated circumstances in their hideouts and are therefore well-prepared to react to lockdown situations building on their own experience.

EASO says that the COVID-19 crisis could embolden IS and lead to a resurgence of the terror group in the region, which in turn could also fuel further migration. The organization recommends that national asylum and reception authorities in the EU should reflect upon “the medium to high risk that the outbreak will eventually take hold in lower income countries which are historically the source of most asylum seekers.”

With increasing numbers of migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe, the number of those dying during dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea could also likely rise again, especially with private aid organizations currently being unable to carry out search and rescue missions during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

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