Asylum applications in Europe fell in April to their lowest level in over a decade. But an asylum lawyer has warned that migrants prevented from applying for protection because of coronavirus restrictions are now especially vulnerable.
The number of asylum applications in Europe fell from 61,421
in February to just 8,739 in April, figures from the European Asylum Support
Office (EASO) show.
During March, the EU shut its external borders, and many of its 27 member states suspended registration of applications for asylum. From February to March, when countries began imposing lockdowns, the EASO figures show a 44% drop in asylum applications.
Top countries of origin: Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela
Most applications in the first four months of 2020 were made by Syrians, followed by Afghans, Venezuelans and Colombians, according to EASO data.
"It is clear the access that potential asylum applicants had was severely restricted over the past few months, especially initially," the executive director of EASO, Nina Gregori, told the Reuters news agency.
"The situation for those in need of asylum has undoubtedly been very challenging,”
Gregori added. "Already fleeing violence and persecution, the COVID-19 crisis
has certainly compounded their situations."
In April, Italy said it would not let migrant boats operated by charities dock as its ports could not be considered safe because of the coronavirus pandemic. Malta also said it could no longer guarantee the rescue of migrants or allow their disembarkation during the coronavirus emergency.
Migrants at greater risk
Those who made it to Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic but were unable to apply for asylum are now more at risk, said Petra Baeyens, senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a network of more than 100 non-government organizations.
"They have limited access to health care, and are considered to be
irregularly on the territory as long as they have not made their asylum
application," Baeyens told Reuters.
"Their vulnerabilities are not being addressed and they are more prone to become victims of exploitation," she added.