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ECRE criticises EU's 'celebratory tone' over fall in asylum applications in 2018

Date of Publication: 
20 February 2019

10% decrease last year continues trend of falling applications for international protection

ECRE criticises EU's 'celebratory tone' over fall in asylum applications in 2018

20 February 2019

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) last week criticised the "celebratory tone" with which the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) announced a fall in asylum applications in the EU in 2018.

In its 2018 asylum trends report published last Wednesday, EASO reported that EU+ countries (which includes Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland) recorded 634,700 applications for international protection last year, a decrease of 10% compared to 2017 and the third consecutive year that asylum applications have fallen following a sharp spike in numbers in 2015.

The top ten countries of origin of asylum seekers in 2018 were Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Turkey, Venezuela, Albania and Georgia.

ECRE said in a statement: "First, the celebratory tone with which the decline in asylum applications was greeted is not pleasant. EASO's coverage borders on the boastful at times; the European Commissioner responsible proclaims that we 'are on the right track'; and national leaders pat themselves on the back on Twitter. It is no secret that the objective of Europe's strategy since 2016 has been to prevent migration into Europe so the shameless bragging is at least honest. The necessity of the approach can be debated, but among the consequences of Europe's actions are that 1) those who need protection are prevented from reaching safety and 2) people blocked en route to Europe are subject to horrific treatment. The approach is justified as a crackdown on irregular migration but in the absence of safe and legal routes to safety, refugees have to move in an 'irregular' way (it is not illegal to cross borders to seek protection and a majority of those who arrived during the crisis were refugees). Those on the move for other reasons are still bearers of human rights and many leave quite desperate situations. Preventing the movement of people in need is not a cause for celebration."

ECRE was also concerned that EASO's report revealed that positive first instance decisions for international protection in the EU+ fell from 40% in 2017 to 34% in 2018.

According to EASO, nationals of Syria, Yemen and Eritrea had the highest recognition rates, whereas the lowest shares of positive decisions were for Georgians and Gambians. EASO's report added: "For some citizenships, recognition rates varied considerably across EU+ countries. The largest variations were observed for Afghanistan (between 6% and 98%) and Iraq (between 8% and 98%)."

ECRE said the "wild divergence" in protection rates showed that similar caseloads are being treated differently from country to country. The group said decision-making must improve: "The divergence is likely due to weaknesses and interference in decision-making, indicating a profound lack of fairness. The rapid decline in protection rates for some nationalities, for example, for Afghans in Sweden or Iraqis across Europe, combined with the prioritisation of return as a 'solution' to the migration 'problem' hints at political factors entering judicial decision-making."

Europe’s response to global displacement must become more complex and sophisticated, ECRE added, and it called for action from the EU on multiple levels to get systems working effectively, rather than a one-track insistence on prevention of arrivals.