In times of Covid-19, asylum applications in the EU remain limited

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Though May saw most EU countries start to lift Covid-19 containment measures, the number of applications for asylum remained significantly reduced, with the 10,200 applications representing a staggering 84% drop from pre-Covid levels.

The Malta-based European Asylum Support Office noted that the number of asylum applications represented a slight increase from the 8,730 registered in April, but still translated into a dramatic decline from the 65,692 applications lodged in January.

Since various EU members remained in a state of health emergency during May – Malta included – many only provided for the pre-registration of new asylum applications, but not their formal lodging. Consequently, the EASO pointed out, a backlog may be forming, which will need to be dealt with once full services are resumed.

The EASO expects the number of asylum applications to increase as the situation begins to return to normal. However, it believes it may continue to be limited to some degree as a number of travel restrictions and border closures remain in place.

As Covid-19 reduced the number of people reaching Europe, the share of repeated applications – lodged by applicants whose previous application in the same country had been rejected or discontinued – doubled to 16% from pre-Covid levels of 8%. Since many countries prioritised vulnerable applicants at a time of limited services, unaccompanied minors accounted for slightly higher proportion of asylum applications.

Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis continued to lodge the most asylum applications in the EU, accounting for a third of all applications lodged in May.

The number of decisions issued by asylum authorities in the first instance – at least 27,300 – also fell dramatically in May, but the 42% drop when compared to February was nevertheless considerably lower than the drop in new applications. This, the EASO argued, showed that asylum authorities generally continued to process cases despite the temporary suspension of some services.

In 38% of these decisions, the applicants received some form of international protection.

Since the number of decisions continued to exceed the number of applications, the number of pending cases in the EU decreased to some 462,829, down by more than 32,300 cases when compared to February.