Decreasing trend in asylum applications but recognition rates vary by EU country

New figures published today by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) show that the trend of decreased asylum applications has continued in 2018. During the first four months of 2018, 197,000 persons asked for asylum in the EU+ (28 EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland), a lower level than during the same period in each of the last three years. EASO writes in a volumnous report that the data shows that application levels have stabilised at an average of less than 50,000 per month.

2017 had already seen a significant decrease with a total of 728,000 arrivals throughout the year, a 44% decrease compared to 2016, when there were almost 1.3 million applications. While overall the number of asylum applications registered in 2017 dropped, some countries still noted considerable increases.

At a press briefing in Brussels (18 June), the figures were presented as proof of that EU has improved its management of migration flows without transforming EU into an “fortress”.

Throughout 2017, migratory pressure at the EU external borders remained high, but decreased for a second consecutive year, mostly on the eastern and central Mediterranean routes, whereas there was an unprecedented upsurge on the western Mediterranean route.

Syria (15%), Iraq (7%) and Afghanistan (7%) remained the top three countries of origin of applicants in the EU+. These were followed by Nigeria, Pakistan, Eritrea, Albania, Bangladesh, Guinea and Iran.

With respect to the number of pending cases, at the end of 2017 there were 954,000 applications awaiting a final decision, which represents a decrease of 16% over the end of 2016. This reflects the lower number of applications and suggesting greater efficiency in the asylum systems of Member States and the Common European Asylum System, according to EASO.

As regards approval rates (recognition rates) in the asylum application process, there is no internationally agreed methodology for calculating the rates and this needs to be clarified according to EASO. Positive decisions on asylum application can refer to granting refugee status, subsidiary protection and humanitarian protection.

EASO has calculated the number of all positive outcomes in the decisions. The overall EU+ recognition rate in first instance in 2017 was 46 % (462,000 out of 997,000 decisions), dropping by 14 percentage points compared to 2016.

This reduction is at least partially due to fewer decisions being issued to applicants with rather high recognition rates, combined with more decisions being issued to applicants with rather low recognition rates.

However, further analysis by EASO reveals that the recognition rate also dropped within individual citizenships. For example, recognition rates fell for nearly half of the top citizenships of origin with most decisions issued.

Importantly, EASO writes, recognition rates tend to vary across EU+ countries. “For individual citizenships, variation in recognition rates among EU+ countries may, to some extent, suggest a lack of harmonisation in terms of decision-making practices” (due e.g. to a different assessment of the situation in a country of origin).

But a spokesperson for EASO told the Brussels Times that “it would not be accurate to state that varying recognition rates in different Member States are solely due to a lack of harmonisation”. The profiles of applicants in different Member States vary significantly for many reasons, even when applicants are from the same country of origin.

For example, many applicants from a certain region in country of origin X may apply overwhelmingly in EU Member State X, while many applicants from a different region in country of origin X may apply in EU Member State Y. “While there is certainly work to be done in improving harmonisation in the EU, the causes of varying recognition rates are not clear cut.”

That said, EASO’s aim is to have a situation where Member States will apply similar criteria. One of the goals of its pilot country guidance project is to contribute to this harmonisation.

At the press briefing, a spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed that the variation in recognition rates is a fact which is known to EU and is one of the issues which is being addressed in the on-going discussion about a reform of the Dublin regulation and the European asylum system.

The intention is to soon arrive at an agreement on a more harmonised or uniform application of the asylum rules. An effect of the such a reform would be that asylum seekers would not prefer one country over another.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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