A slight decline in asylum applications in 2016

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On 16 March 2017, Eurostat published the census of asylum applications submitted in the European Union (EU) in 2016.

As clearly illustrated in the chart above, the number of first-time asylum applicants (1,203,000) shows a slight drop compared with 2015 (1,257,000) but is still twice as high as in 2014 (562,000).

It should be noted that this figure does not result solely from a decrease in the flow of arrivals – which has significantly decreased since September 2016[1] – but more to the backlog of files being processed, insofar as the national administrations are struggling to keep pace. At the end of 2015, 1,002,400 applications were pending; they have thus been progressively processed in 2016[2]. The same phenomena may happen again in 2017 as the number of pending asylum applications at the end of 2016 was 1,094,100.

It is also important to note that for the first time since 2008, the number of asylum applications registered in the EU (slightly) decreased as compared to the previous year. This will probably be regarded by the European institutions as an encouraging testimony to the effectiveness of border control policies and to the positive effects of the EU-Turkey agreement.

  • Where do these person seeking international protection come from?

In its composition, the origin of the application for international protection is comparable to that of last year. Syrians (334,800, or 28% of the total), Afghans (183,000, or 15%) and Iraqis (127,000, or 11%) remain the most represented nationalities. Over half of the asylum applications have thus been made by persons fleeing wars and conflicts (54%), and Syrians make up the majority of asylum seekers in 13 Member States out of 28.

However, recently released figures from EASO show an important decrease in the number of asylum applicants coming from Iraq. In January 2017, they were overtaken by Nigerians as the third most represented nationality[3].  A comparable decline can be observed with regards to Afghans.

  •  Which are the countries receiving asylum applicants?

Unsurprisingly, similarly to last year, 60% of asylum applications were lodged in Germany. It is also in Germany that the proportion of first-time asylum seekers per million inhabitants is the highest (8,789/million). As for the reception volume, Italy and France come in second and third positions, with respectively 10.1% (or 121,185) and 6.3% (or 75,990) of requests registered in the entire EU territory. However, when compared to national population figures (respectively 1,138/million inhabitants and 1,998/million inhabitants), these numbers are much lower than in small-sized EU countries such as Austria (4,857/million inhabitants), not to mention very small countries such as Malta (3,989/million inhabitants), Cyprus (3,350/million inhabitants) or Luxembourg (3,582/million inhabitants).

In Greece, the number of asylum applications went up by 339 percent from 2015. This dramatic increase may be explained by the overcrowding of migrants on hotspots in the Greek islands due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, and the obligation to make an application for asylum in order to have any hope of being relocated. But it is also and largely the result of the closure of the Western Balkan routes, which prevented migrants from going to the other Member States[4].

The two solutions that are available to ease the burden on Greece, namely the relocation of refugees to the other Member States and the expansion of Greek’s capacity to process asylum applications are implemented at a slow pace. Here as well, “stock management”[5] weighs on the country’s administration… and even more on asylum seeker’s living conditions!

  •  How many asylum applications resulting in grants of protection status?

The statistics published on the Eurostat website in March 2017 count the number of first instance asylum decisions resulting in positive outcomes in 2016[6]. Member States have granted protection to 673 065 persons, about 61% of all the applications examined : 366 320 persons were given protection as refugees (about 54% of all positive decisions), 258 430 on the basis of subsidiary protection (38%) and 43 315 were granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds (7%).

Recognition rates remain highly unequal depending on the applicant’s nationality. Thus, according to EASO figures[7], in 2016, the 28 Member State have granted protection to 98% of Syrians, 92% of Eritreans and 61% of Iraqis. In contrast, those coming from the Western Balkans have to deal with a more restrictive assessment, with respectively 1% and 3% of positive decisions for Serbian and Albanian asylum seekers.

It should be pointed out that the data currently available is only global. In the coming weeks, figures will be revealed on each Member State, which will make it possible to measure the gaps between recognition rates of the need for international protection of certain countries’ nationals depending on the State processing the asylum application.

For further reading:

– Eurostat, “Asylum in the EU Member States: 1.2 million first-time asylum seekers registered in 2016. Syrians, Afghans and – Iraqis continued to be the top citizenships”, 16 March 2017 [ENG][FR]

– EASO, Latest Asylum Trends – Overview 2016 [ENG]

– EASO, Latest Asylum Trends – January 2017 [ENG]

[1] Frontex estimates that there have been 364 000 arrivals by sea in 2016, which represents a decrease by more than two-thirds compared with 2015.  In “Fewer migrants at EU borders in 2016”; 6 January 2017

[2] It is specified that these figures concern “first-time asylum applicants”. According to EASO, requests for reviews represent only 4% of files.

[3] EASO, Latest Asylum Trends – January 2017 [ENG]

[4] See, as a reminder, the article published by AEDH almost a year ago: « Chaos in Greece, the syndrome of EU’s policies », 26 April 2016

[5] According to Eurostat, there were 40 015 asylum applications pending at the end of December 2016. This stock has never been lower than 25 000 throughout the year and even tended to increase over the last few months. See: “Person subject of asylum applications pending at the end of the month – monthly data” (last update: 15.03.2017)

[6] First instance decisions may be the subject of an appeal. They are thus not definitive.

[7] EASO, Latest Asylum Trends – Overview 2016 [ENG]