The pandemic shock has put a brake on the movement of migrants and refugees. This is the main conclusion of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which presented, Thursday, February 18, a report for the year 2020. Asylum requests in the European Union (plus the Norway and Switzerland) fell 31% in 2020, reaching their lowest level since 2013, “Mainly due to restrictions” linked to the pandemic: 461,300 applications filed, compared to 671,200 the previous year.
Syrians still in the majority
The hierarchy of the most represented nationals remains unchanged, as does the rate of recognition of refugee status (32%). The Syrians remain in the majority with 64,540 requests (- 9% compared to 2019), followed by Afghans with 48,578 requests (- 16%). Significant decreases concern requests from South Americans, the plane remaining a necessary passage for this category of applicants, whether they are Venezuelans (30,643 requests, decrease of – 32%) or Colombians (29,438; – 9%) . It is the Iraqis who recorded the largest drop (18,167; – 40%).
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The figures for illegal arrivals follow the same trend. According to Frontex, the European border surveillance agency, crossings in Europe without a residence permit (which concerns many asylum seekers) decreased by 13% in 2020, to reach 124,000. Here again, the measures taken emergency linked to Covid-19 are involved, but not only.
In Greece, ante-Covid hardening
Since coming to power in 2019, well before the pandemic, Greece’s conservative government has prioritized ” Security “ external borders, while stepping up its control over NGO activity in Greece. As a result, arrivals via the eastern Mediterranean experienced the greatest decrease (- 80%), to stand at around 20,000. At the other end of the Mediterranean, the western route through Spain also experienced a drop in attendance of 29% (17,000 passages), also due to tighter control exercised by Morocco.
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This general decrease also masks the effects of carry-over on other migratory routes. Migration in the central Mediterranean has tripled, reaching more than 35,600 arrivals. This explains in good part that after the Syrians, the Tunisians, the Algerians and the Moroccans are the most declared nationalities. The use of the Western Balkans route also increased by more than 75% (27,000).
Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa took the road through the Canaries overwhelmingly, almost marginal before last year, and eight times more frequented than in 2019 (22,600 passages). This is a record, in memory of Frontex which has been collecting this data since 2009.
9,000 illegal refoulements, according to NGOs
The virtual closure of the road passing through Greece is causing a big debate among NGOs, who denounce a “Unprecedented escalation” of violations of the rights of migrants and refugees.
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According to a survey by the German association Mare Nostrum published on February 12, “9,000 people have been violently returned to Turkey and deprived of their right to asylum according to 321 documented incidents”, and these refoulements prohibited by international law would imply “Frontex, but also ships under NATO command”. Frontex is currently targeted by several investigations, by the European Parliament and the European anti-fraud gendarme, Olaf, in particular for these accusations of illegal refoulements.
Greece, through the voice of its migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, denounces “False accusations” linked to “A ‘fake news’ strategy orchestrated by Turkey, via non-governmental organizations and smugglers’ networks”. On Monday February 15, the Greek League for Human Rights and five other NGOs questioned the UN on the lack of“Effective investigation” on these repressions.