Increase in the number of applications for international protection in Belgium, but also in other EU member states
In 2019, 27,742 persons applied for international protection at the Immigration Office, compared to 23,343 in 2018. This is an increase of 18.3%, and of 40.9% when compared to 2017. In 2019, the months with the highest number of applications were January, September and October.
Belgium is not the only country with a substantial increase in the number of applications for international protection. Among neighbouring countries, the Netherlands, France and Luxemburg also saw a strong rise, as was also the case with countries on the external borders of the EU, such as Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.
The increasing number of applications for international protection in Belgium and in other countries is due to several factors. Caution should be exercised in interpreting this increase.
One important factor is secondary migration within the EU. It appears that Belgium receives more secondary migrants than some of its neighbours, and than most Scandinavian and Eastern European countries.
On the other hand, migration towards Europe, mainly through Turkey, is also increasing. It is difficult to assess the extent of this increase and its impact on Belgium. Political decision makers have to take into consideration that migration towards Europe via Turkey may increase further. The same can be said of migration flows from Africa.
New arrivals and old acquaintances among countries of origin
In 2019, applications for international protection in Belgium were mainly filed by persons from Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and El Salvador.
In 2019, Afghanistan was the main country of origin of applicants in Belgium and in the EU. The number of Afghan applicants has been rising since quite some time. For Belgium, this number has to be put in perspective, as quite a considerable number of Afghan applications are subsequent applications or from persons who have already obtained a protection status in another EU member state. Syria was the second country of origin of applicants in 2019 and Iraq occupied the fourth place. It should be noted that 42.6% of applications from Iraqi nationals are subsequent applications. Palestinians from the Gaza strip occupy the third place.
El Salvador occupies a noticeable fifth place. Many other EU member states also witnessed a sharp rise in the number of applicants from Latin American countries.
Higher number of decisions in the last months of 2019
In 2019, the CGRS took 15,009 decisions for a total of 18,544 persons. During the last months of the year, more decisions were taken thanks to additional staff. The number of decisions is set to increase further, as additional protection officers and administrative staff have been recruited at the end of 2019 and in early 2020.
Protection needs remain high but not for every one
In 2019, in 36.9% of final decisions, the CGRS considered that the applicant was in need of protection. This amounts to 5,117 decisions granting a protection status, for a total of 6,719 persons (including minors who accompany their parents). 31.4% were decisions granting refugee status and 5.5% were decisions granting subsidiary protection status. A protection status was mainly granted to nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq and Eritrea.
The protection rate decreased further in 2019 compared to the previous years (57.7% in 2016, 50.7% in 2017 and 49.1% in 2018). This decrease is mainly due to a rise in decisions declaring inadmissible a subsequent application or an application from an applicant with a protection status in another EU member state. These applications are processed as a priority. Leaving aside these two categories, the protection rate still amounts to 50.5%. This means that there are still many applicants who need protection.
In 2019, there was a sharp rise in the number of applications from applicants with a protection status in another EU member state. These applications are generally declared inadmissible, since the persons concerned already enjoy international protection. In the second half of 2019, these applications were processed as a priority. In the last three months of the year, 660 decision of inadmissibility were taken for a total of 906 persons who already enjoy a protection status in another EU member state.
The CGRS almost eliminated its backlog in 2018. Due to a sharp and unforeseen increase in the number of applicants since the second half of 2018, the total caseload of the CGRS, i.e. the number of applications still awaiting a decision from the CGRS, has been rising constantly, up to 10,362 dossiers. With a normal caseload of 4,200 dossiers, the actual backlog amounts to 6,162 dossiers.
The CGRS is aware that an increased backlog involves longer waiting times for asylum applicants. It does all in its power to eliminate its backlog as soon as possible.
Additional means to carry out its mission
On 15 February and again on 14 November 2019, the Council of Ministers decided an overall reinforcement of asylum staff. The CGRS was allotted 146 additional staff (130 protection officers and 16 administrative staff members). In the second half of 2019, 74 protection officers and 9 administrative aids have started to work at the CGRS. The remaining reinforcements are due to start in the beginning of 2020.
Thanks to its additional staff, the CGRS will be able to put all its efforts into clearing its backlog, which should be achieved by the end of 2021, depending on the evolution of the number of applications. This evolution should be closely monitored, and additional staff should be granted if necessary.
A European and comprehensive asylum policy is the only solution
The CGRA counts on an efficient asylum policy being established in Belgium and the EU.
This primarily implies an evidence-based policy, founded on a clear understanding of the complex reality of migration, outside any polarizing discourse.
Moreover, for an asylum policy to be efficient, it has to include a respect of fundamental rights and aim at protecting refugees. At the same time, the control of illegal migration should be vigorously pursued, including an effective return policy.
The reality of migration necessitates a European and comprehensive approach. With the new European Commission and the new President of the European Council, it is to be hoped that a breakthrough will be made towards a common European asylum policy and a comprehensive approach of migration and asylum. It is essential to harmonize European policies regarding the reception of asylum seekers and the assessment of asylum applications. The management of the EU’s external borders requires a solid asylum policy. It is hardly useful to increase the number of FRONTEX “border guards” without a harmonizing and standardizing the EU’s asylum policy.
A first impetus has been given at a domestic and European level, but with limited results. A strong commitment comparable to the European Green Deal is necessary.
Finally, the CGRS considers that it is essential to maintain a nuanced discourse on migration and asylum, with a correct presentation of the issues involved, exempt from any fake news.