EU experiences surge of asylum-seekers from Syria

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The number of Syrian asylum-seekers to the EU soared 206% to 24,110 last year, overtaking Afghanistan refugees as the largest group of applicants asking for international protection.

A report published by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) show an increase of 11% of applications from asylum seekers across the EU, but only 1% of “new” applicants, meaning that a significant number of applications were from having already applied for international protection.

There 335,365 applications in 2012. While Afghanistan remained the number one country of origin in terms of total applications made, the most significant increase of applicants came from Syria, the top country of origin for new applicants.

Syrian nationals also top the ranking in terms of recognition rates, followed by nationals of Eritrea, Mali and Somalia. The leading destinations for Syrian asylum seekers were Germany and Sweden, said the report, released on 8 July.

Robert Visser, the director of the European Asylum Support Office, praised recent EU moves to harmonise asylum rules.

“That will mean a considerable effort for member states implement and translate it to their national systems,” he said.

Last month, MEPs adopted common procedures in dealing with asylum-seekers. The new rules, which take effect in the second half of 2015, will set a standard six-month deadline to process asylum cases with limited exceptions.

The European Parliament and EU governments also agreed a short list of grounds for detaining asylum-seekers, as well as minimum standards for detention and living conditions.

The report underlines that in 2012 several EU countries undertook measures to increase their reception capacity and the quality of reception. However, it also points out that problems with overcrowded and poor-quality reception centres persisted.

Following a number of cases that caused public outrage, some member countries have limited the use of detention of applicants for international protection, and introduced rules that limit the detention of families with children as a last resort. Still, the frequent use of detention in some member states remains a concern, the report notes.  

‘Fake’ asylum-seekers

The largest number of asylum-seekers to the EU, at over 53,000 or 50% more than in 2011, came from the six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), which were recently granted visa-free travel to the Schengen area.

Many of the applicants are ethnic Roma and Albanians who are often referred to as “fake asylum-seekers”, because they are rarely granted asylum and are provided with accommodation and some pocket money while there cases are pending. The rejection rate of this group is around 96%.

Asylum-seekers from the Russian Federation, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran and Georgia also soared in 2012.

The report gives precise data for the number of asylum-seekers for each individual EU country, illustrating that nine of them – France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, UK, Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland – receive the bulk of the applications.

First-time asylum applications have the highest positive decision rate in Malta, where EASO is located (90%), compared to only 14% in France, the country where the largest number of applications at first instance were lodged. The EU average is 28%.

Luxembourg has the highest rate of rejections of such applications – 98%.

During second hearings, asylum applications have the highest positive decision rate in Portugal (57%), followed by Malta (55%). In France the rate is 11%, while the EU average is 27%.

Greece grants asylum at second instance in 2% of cases followed by Luxembourg at 3%.

According to Amnesty International, refugees and migrants trying to reach the EU via Greece from conflict-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan are being unlawfully returned to Turkey by Greek coast and border guards. In a new report, Frontier Europe: Human Rights Abuses on Greece’s border with Turkey, Amnesty International reveals the Greek authorities’ dangerous use of ‘push-backs’ - when they turn groups of migrants back across the border, denying them the right to have their individual cases heard or to challenge their expulsion.

“These stories of push-backs are extremely alarming,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Our research indicates that the Greek authorities are regularly returning people, blatantly ignoring their obligations under international and EU law and endangering people’s lives.”

Eleven Maltese NGOs urged the country’s government on 9 July not to send back to Libya a group of Somali migrants who arrived on the island the same day. The group of 102 included 41 women and two babies. All are Somali.

“The action contemplated by the government is precisely what the prime minister says it is not: it is a pushback, sending people who have come to our shores to seek well-deserved refuge, back to a country where they may well be killed,” the groups' statement reads.

Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System and improve the current legislative framework.

New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger co-operation to ensure that asylum-seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.

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