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    Delays in processing asylum applications in EU Member States

    In 2016, 1 204 000 first time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the Member States of the European Union (EU). This a number slightly down compared with 2015, when 1 257 000 first time applicants were registered but almost double that of 2014 (562 700). Syrians (334 800 first time applicants), Afghans (183 000) and Iraqis (127 000) remained the main citizenship of people seeking asylum, accounting for slightly more than half of all first time applicants.  These data on asylum applicants in the EU were issued by Eurostat, the statistics office of EU last week.

    With 722 300 first time applicants registered in 2016, Germany recorded 60% of all first time applicants in the EU Member States. It was followed by Italy (121 200, or 10%), France (76 000, or 6%), Greece (49 900, or 4%), Austria (39 900, or 3%) and the United Kingdom (38 300, or 3%).

    Among Member States with more than 5 000 first time asylum seekers in 2016, numbers of first time applicants rose most compared with the previous year in Greece (38 500 more first time asylum seekers in 2016 than in 2015, or +339%), Germany (280 500 more, or +63%) and Italy (37 900 more, or +46%).

    In contrast, the largest decreases were recorded in the Nordic Member States – Sweden (-86%), Finland (-84%) and Denmark (-71%) – as well as in Hungary (-84%), Belgium (-63%), the Netherlands (-55%) and Austria (-53%).

    The still high number of asylum seekers in 2016 comes as a surprise in view of the significant decrease in the number of refugees arriving in Europe following the EU-Turkey agreement in March last year on stemming the flow of migrants from Turkey to Greece and the closing of the Balkan route.

    A spokesperson for Eurostat explained to The Brussels Times that the large influx of asylum seekers in 2015 may have caused delays in registration of applications in some Member States. “However, Eurostat has no information about the impact of such delays and we cannot assess the effects on the reporting of 2016 statistics.”

    Notably, in the second half of 2016 a decreasing trend of registered asylum applications was observed in the EU.  The number of first time asylum applicants in the EU-28 decreased by -51 % in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter of 2015.

    Asylum application procedures differ between Member States but Eurostat does not collect data on the average time of entering asylum application into respective national register and the average processing time.  

    Recent data show a decreasing stock of pending applications but the number is still high. At the end of 2016, 1 094 000 asylum applications were still under consideration by the responsible national authorities. Pending applications for international protection are those that have been made at any time and are still under consideration by the national authorities.

    The percentage of approved asylum applications (first instance decisions) increased in 2016 and reached an average of 61 % compared to 45 % in 2015. Syrian refugees received the highest number of decisions granting protection status in the EU Member States (398 000 or 98%), followed by Iraqis (64 000 or 63 %) and Afghans (58 000 or 56 %).

    M. Apelblat

    The Brussels Times (Source: Eurostat)