Spain European country with biggest rise in rejection of asylum requests soars despite pandemic

Restrictions due to coronavirus slow down the arrival of refugees to the continent

3 min
Afghan refugees walking towards the border between Greece and Turkey.

BrusselsThe restrictions on mobility during the coronavirus pandemic made it even more difficult for asylum seekers to reach European territory. This is described in the latest report by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) which notes that in 2020 asylum applications fell by 32% across Europe compared to the previous year. Overall, almost 6 out of 10 of these applications were refused but, proportionally, the refusals were fewer than the previous year. Only six countries increased the number of rejected requests and among these, Spain stands out in particular: despite receiving 25% fewer applications, it denied 276% more than in 2019.

The State, therefore, is part of the group of countries that along with Greece (+81%), Slovenia (+65%), Romania (+156%) and Lithuania (+15%) denied more applications for international protection than the previous year. Spain is usually, together with Germany and France, one of the three states of the European Union that registers the most requests. In 2020, these three countries alone received 63% of the total. Spain is also usually one of the countries with the highest percentage of rejection. Getting international protection is practically impossible, especially for people who do not come from countries like Venezuela who receive special permits for humanitarian reasons. Ninety-nine percent of the people who received one of these permits last year were Venezuelan and, in fact, there was an increase compared to last year. In contrast, more than half of denied applications came from Colombia

The impact of the pandemic

In 2020, 88,530 asylum applications were registered in Spain, 18.3% of the total in the European Union (the third country with the most applications), of which 73,740 were rejected. It is also the third country which had the most asylum application awaiting resolution at the end of 2020, despite the fact that, in line with the general trend, it managed to reduce the number of unresolved applications when the volume of applications fell.

Globally, the main countries of origin of people seeking asylum in the European Union continue to be Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia and Iraq. However, requests have fallen considerably from all countries of origin in 2020 due to the pandemic. At the presentation of the report, which also marked the tenth anniversary of the European Asylum Support Office, its director, Nina Gregori, made it clear that it is not that there are fewer people in need of international protection, but that the pandemic has acted as an "inhibitor", citing the report, and made it more difficult for them to reach the gates of Europe. It should be recalled that non-essential travel to the European Union has been restricted since July 1, 2020 and as many as 14 countries reintroduced controls also within the Schengen area.

The fall in asylum applications in the EU in 2020

In its recommendations, the European Commission made it clear that international and humanitarian protection had to continue to be guaranteed despite the mobility restrictions, but the data make it clear that, in practice, refugees encountered even more obstacles to be able to seek protection. The report acknowledges that "some offices temporarily suspended registration of applications during the first wave of the pandemic" and that others did not do so officially but did "limit registration to basic information, often in writing and adding requirements such as quarantines or testing". To all this must be added the limitations due to social distancing rules. "To limit the number of people physically present, some national authorities introduced new online or telephone appointment systems," the agency notes. We should remember, for example, that Greece announced that it was suspending the right to seek asylum in March when Turkey opened its borders and the Greek authorities responded with violence against thousands of refugees from the Syrian war

European Asylum Support Office to become an Agency

Just this Tuesday MEPs and EU governments reached an agreement to transform the European Asylum Support Office into the European Union Asylum Agency, a move that is part of the European Commission's latest proposal to renew the stalled Migration and Asylum pact. It will have 500 more experts, including interpreters and people specialising in the asylum process to assist state governments.