Asylum applications in the European Union dropped by 31% last year and fell to a record low. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) attributed the decline mainly to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
In 2020, around 461,300 asylum applications were filed in the EU+ countries (the 27 European Union member states plus Norway and Switzerland*). That' 31% fewer than in 2019 when 671,200 applications were lodged.
As the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) announced on Thursday in the Maltese capital Valletta, the total has dropped to its lowest level since 2013.
The main reason for the decline, EASO said, were travel restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus. "The considerable decrease reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related emergency measures, such as movement restrictions," EASO said in a statement. This has cut off, or reduced, several refugee immigration channels, news agency AFP writes.
EASO also noted that applications strongly fluctuated throughout the year: Most were lodged in January and February, and the fewest between March and June.
Recognition rates, top nationalities
On average, about every third asylum application was accepted, roughly the same rate as in 2019. Most of those granted protection came from Syria, Eritra and Yemen – for these citizenships, the recognition rates were 84%, 80% and 75% respectively.
The recognition rates for Colombians (2%) and Venezuelans (3%) reached "very low levels", according to EASO.
However, the recognition rates often differed strongly across receiving countries, EASO notes. This was especially the case for Afghans, who on average had a recognition rate of 53% in 2020, an increase of 5% from 2019.
In total numbers, most applications were filed by nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia and Iraq. The top countries of origin remained the same as in 2019.
EASO said 4% of the requests received last year were in the names of unaccompanied minors, an increase of one percentage point over the previous year.
Nigeria down 44%
Almost all nationalities lodged fewer applications in 2020. Only those from Comoros, Belarus, Cuba and Brazil showed increases over 2019, the analysis shows.
The largest drop in applications (44%) was from people from Nigeria.
Despite the pandemic, national authorities processing new asylum requests have done so at roughly "the same level" as in 2019. About 521,000 decisions were issued at first instance in 2020. For the first time since 2017, the number of first instance decisions exceeded the number of applications.
According to EASO, while around 17% of backlog cases were cleared, 412,600 cases were still pending at the end of 2020.
With dpa, AFP
*Note: Until the end of 2019, data for the EU+ also included the United Kingdom