Asylum applications in Europe rose by 11% to 738,425 in 2019, the first annual increase since 2015, new data from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) showed.  

In its annual report, published Thursday, the Malta-based EASO noted that while the COVID-19 emergency has led to an 87% drop in applications in recent months, the overall increasing trend is expected to resume later this year as travel and safety restrictions are gradually lifted. 

The report also stressed that some European countries such as Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain received more asylum applicants in 2019 than during the migration crisis of 2015.  

Most of the countries responded to the surge in asylum requests and changing migratory patterns by introducing new measures or practices to address the migrant flows, disembarkations and rising backlogs of pending cases, EASO said.  

Despite that, the first-instance procedures remained lengthy in most countries, frequently extending past the six-month legal time limit, it added.  

“The number of pending cases still awaiting a decision at the end of 2019 remained much higher compared to the pre-2015 level, illustrating the pressure under which asylum and reception systems are still operating,” EASO said.  

The agency noted, however, that backlogs were reduced in early 2020 following temporary office closures due to COVID-19 safety measures. At the end of March, there were about 836,000 pending cases, an 8% drop compared to the end of December 2019. 

In 2019, France, Germany and Spain received more than one-half of all applications, followed at a distance by Greece. For the sixth consecutive year, Germany continued to receive the highest number of applications, at about 166,000.  

Italy instead received far fewer applications — about 44,000 in total — for the second consecutive year, due to significantly reduced irregular migration across the Central Mediterranean. 

The Western and Central Mediterranean routes had fewer arrivals compared to 2018, while the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes experienced increased arrivals. 

Afghanistan and Venezuela – together with Colombia, El Salvador and Peru – accounted for most of the increase in applications for international protection in 2019. Most asylum applicants were Syrians, Afghans and Venezuelans.  

At a global level, the 6.6 million refugees from Syria made up approximately one-third of the global refugee population, followed by Afghanistan and South Sudan, with 2.7 million and 2.2 million respectively, the report showed.  

Data indicated that countries neighboring the epicenter of a crisis are often the first in line to accommodate displaced persons. In 2019, in absolute terms, Turkey by far hosted the highest numbers of refugees, followed by Pakistan, Uganda, Germany and Sudan.  

EASO noted that European countries made progress toward reaching the goal of resettling 50,000 migrants from non-EU countries under the second EU Resettlement Scheme. In 2019, approximately 30,700 people arrived in Europe through resettlement, 8% more than in 2018.  

The agency said that “a key dimension of the EU approach to address the Eastern Mediterranean route is the partnership with Turkey through the EU-Turkey Statement” reached in 2016.  

Data show that after four years, irregular arrivals from Turkey to EU countries were 94% lower than before the agreement, and a total of about 27,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled from Turkey to European countries.

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