Most asylum seekers in EU come from Afghanistan


Most asylum seekers to the European Union in 2011 came from Afghanistan, a new EU report revealed Tuesday (10 July).

The report by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) showed that in 2011 28,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the EU, the highest number in the decade since the war began.

EASO Executive Director Robert K. Visser said Afghans were “by far the biggest” asylum seeker group in the EU, accounting for 9% of all applications and with 17 EU countries registering Afghans in their top three.

After Afghans, Russians and Pakistanis are the second and third biggest asylum seekers in the EU, with about 18,000 and 15,000 applications in 2011 respectively. The EU yearly absorbs more asylum seekers than any other region, with 44% of all applications worldwide.

Visser said he hoped the detailed report, entitled ‘Afghanistan: Taliban Strategies – Recruitment’, would contribute towards the “quality of decisions made” in asylum cases in the EU.

He called the first EU wide country of origin report “state of the art at this moment”.

The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee voted Tuesday (10 July) on a resolution for a permanent system for relocating asylum seekers in the EU and therefore improve policy solidarity amongst member states.

MEPs also called on more funding in this area, joint processing of applications and a stronger role for EASO. The Parliament is now waiting on Commission legislation proposals for a permanent relocation mechanism.

The EU asylum system recently came under fire, when in March UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres labeled it “extremely dysfunctional”, specifying a lack of coherent policies, reported

Guterres went so far as to say that there was “no such thing as a European asylum system”.

The official used the Afghan example to demonstrate the EU’s lack of cohesion over asylum policy since, depending on the country, an Afghan applicant had had between an 8% and a 91% acceptance rate over the last year.

Visser said the average denial rate stood at 55% for Afghan applicants, with a standard deviation of about 28% between EU countries, which was why Afghanistan was chosen as the subject of the new report.

The EU asylum head said he hoped the transparency of the report’s methodology could aid in EU wide asylum decision-making processes.

Visser said he was “unable to predict” if Afghan asylum applications would increase or decrease in the coming years, especially after the forecasted 2014 EU and US military withdrawal from the country. He added it was “not the aim of the report to project into the future”.

Asylum motives

The report singled out the fear of recruitment by Taliban or other insurgent groups as an important reason  to seek asylum. Among the topics discussed with caseworkers were “madrassas” (religious schools), night letters, suicide bombers, kidnappings, training camps, ethnicity and coercion by family or other community members.

Visser said that Taliban recruitment was mostly local and that, despite its Pashtun origins, it was not confined to one ethnicity.

The EU asylum head said forced, physical recruitment remained “exceptional” but that did not take into account complex psychological or familial motives.

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles views the laws so far adopted at EU level as inadequate to ensure protection for refugees and asylum seekers. It finds that the standards set are minimal, leaving  member states too much opportunity for derogation, and lacking the necessary safeguards. It states that the "absolute respect of the right to seek asylum", promised at Tampere has been totally undermined. 

Amnesty International campaigns for the enforcement of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees and is concerned that some EU countries are deporting refugees in circumstances where their safety is at risk.

The European Network Against Racism has highlighted the fact that immigrants across Europe are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and that action is needed at EU level to address this problem.

A resolution adopted by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee on 10 July calls for a permanent system for relocating internationally protected persons within the European Union. The resolution also calls for joint processing of asylum applications and a stronger role for the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) to promote closer cooperation among EU countries.

In a statement after the committee vote, rapporteur Kyriacos Triantaphyllides of Cyprus said: "We have sent a strong signal to the Commission and to the member states on how we conceive solidarity in the field of asylum through concrete proposals to translate this principle into action. Our message is clear. Now the ball is in the Commission's court. We expect the Commission to come forward with legislative proposals because it is time to change the logic underlying the Common European Asylum System so as to base it on genuine and effective solidarity as well as fair responsibility sharing."

National programmes to control immigration into EU member states have been in existence for decades but it was not until October 1999 that moves were made towards an EU-wide common asylum and immigration policy at the Tampere Summit. The results of the Tampere programme were published on its expiry in May 2004. The continuation of this initiative was decided upon at the European Council of Nov 2004, and is known as the "Hague programme", a 5 year plan to establish an area of freedom, security and justice in the EU.

In September 2005, the Commission adopted a new package of measures on immigration and asylum, comprising a proposed directive on common standards on return and three communications on integration, regional protection programmes and migration and development.

In 2008, the EU finalised a European immigration pact seeking to balance calls for stricter control of migratory flows with respect for developing countries and the human rights of asylum seekers.

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