Asylum applications in Europe fell to the lowest level in April for over a decade according to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The group, which tracks trends in migration figures, found asylum applications declined to 8,730 during April, an 86 per cent drop from 61,421 in February, highlighting the hidden threat posed by the spread of the coronavirus outbreak to some of the most desperate people on the planet.
The drop in the number of asylum applications was first witnessed at the beginning of the year. EASO figures show a 44 per cent decrease from February to March, when states began imposing lockdowns. The EU shut its external borders in March and many of its 27 member states suspended registration of applications.
“It is clear the access that potential asylum applicants had was severely restricted over the past few months, especially initially,” EASO Executive Director Nina Gregori told Reuters. “The situation for those in need of asylum has undoubtedly been very challenging. Already fleeing violence and persecution, the COVID-19 crisis has certainly compounded their situations.”
This decline comes after a period of very high asylum application. EASO figures show that in January, more than 65,300 asylum applications were lodged, almost back to the recent peak of October 2019 (66,600).
In the first two months of 2020, Syrians (14,441) and Afghans (13 245) continued to lodge the most applications in the EU, accounting for more than a fifth of all applications, EASO reported.
Those who made it to Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic but were unable to apply for asylum are now more at risk, said Petra Baeyens, senior legal officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a network of more than 100 non-governmental organisations across 40 European countries.
“They have limited access to health care, and are considered to be irregularly on the territory as long as they have not made their asylum application,” Baeyens told Reuters.
“Their vulnerabilities are not being addressed and they are more prone to become victims of exploitation.”