Number of applications for protection on the decrease in Belgium and in other EU countries.
In 2020, 16,910 persons filed an application for international protection at the Immigration Office (IO). This number is lower compared to 2019, when 27,742 persons filed an application. The number of applications has not been so low since 2008.
The number of applications for asylum did not only decrease in our country. Other member states also saw a marked decrease in the number of applications. This is obviously due to the Covid context.
While in Belgium the number of applications was still fairly high in January 2020 (2,739 applications), there was a very strong decrease in the period between March and July. This was due to the temporary suspension of registrations and the limited possibility to travel. From August onwards, the number of applications gradually increased.
Migration to the EU and Belgium continued in 2020, although there are differences compared to 2019:
- Migration of persons by air dropped drastically, e.g. the strong decrease of the number of applicants from Latin America.
- Migration from Turkey into Greece clearly decreased.
- Migration to Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Spain increased but the migrants’ origin differed from that in 2019. For the Central Mediterranean Route there is a shift from Libya to Tunisia. Furthermore, we see a very strong increase of migration to the Canary Islands, whereas this route hardly existed in 2019.
Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons Dirk Van den Bulck explains: “As a result of the Covid pandemic, migration to and inside the EU clearly decreased in 2020. Consequently, the number of asylum applicants in 2020 was inferior to that of the past years. At the start of 2021, the number of applicants will probably still be somewhat lower than in the past few years. But we have to take into account that migration to and inside the EU and the number of asylum applicants will increase again, as soon as the restrictive measures due to the Covid pandemic will become less stringent.”
Hardly any applicants from Latin America
In 2020, the most important countries of origin of applicants for international protection were Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Somalia and Turkey.
Afghanistan clearly occupies the first place, with 3,104 applications in 2020, including 796 subsequent applications. The number of applications from Afghan nationals was already on the increase in 2020. This trend continued in 2020. The increase mainly involves unaccompanied minor applicants.
In 2020, Syria occupied the second place (with 1,725 applicants, 176 of whom arrived as part of the relaunched resettlement program). Iraq is the third country of origin, with 864 applications, including 460 subsequent applications (53.2 %). Eritrea is the fourth country of origin, with 832 applicants. The fifth place is occupied by Palestinians (mainly from Gaza), with 788 applications, including 335 subsequent applications (42.5 %).
Most striking is the ninth place occupied by applicants from El Salvador. Most of the 538 applications were filed in the first three months of 2020, after which their number decreased strongly. The past few months, their number generally amounted to less than ten per month. Migration from Latin America clearly diminished. In the period between August and November 2020, many Brazilians filed an application for international protection. This mainly involved persons who had been in Belgium for quite some time and who thought they would be able to regularize their stay by doing this. Meanwhile, many of them have renounced their application.
Evolution of the number of decisions
In 2020, the CGRS took 14,272 decisions for 17,384 persons.
Despite the difficult sanitary context, the CGRS kept accomplishing its mission. Covid-19 had a serious impact on the number of decisions. From 16 March, the personal interviews were completely suspended. Thanks to appropriate precaution measures, interviews were resumed on 8 June. As a result, the number of decisions gradually reached a record number in December (1,914 decisions for 2,328 persons).
Protection rate influenced by the number of inadmissibility decisions
In 2020, in 34.1 % of the final decisions, the CGRS considered that the applicant needed protection. In all, this involves 4,588 decisions granting a protection status to 5,836 persons (including minor children accompanying their parents).
27.8 % of final decisions were decisions granting refugee status and 6.3 % were decisions granting subsidiary protection status.
Mainly Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans, Turks and Somalians were granted a protection status.
In 2020, the protection rate kept decreasing compared to the previous years (57.7 % in 2016, 50.7 % in 2017, 49.1 % in 2018 and 36.9 % in 2019). This decrease is mainly due to an increased number of inadmissibility decisions, mainly for subsequent applications (multiple applications) and for applications filed by persons who enjoy a protection status in another EU member state. These cases are given priority. If we do not take these cases into account, the protection rate is 47.3 %.
This difference is also revealed if we take a closer look at the protection rates of a number of countries. For Afghanistan and Syria, the protection rate amounts to 32.9 % and 62.8 % respectively. However, for the decisions on the substance of the case (not including the inadmissibility decisions) these rates amount to 60.7 % and 96.2 % respectively.
This means that there are still many applicants in need of protection.
The Commissioner General on this subject: “2020 was a special year for everyone, also for the applicants and CGRS staff members. The CGRS did everything possible to continue its mission in safe conditions. The CGRS staff members showed utter professionalism and strong motivation. It remains crucial to grant a protection status to all those in need of protection and to take decisions within the shortest possible time.”
December 2020 was a turning point in reducing the backlog
At the end of 2020, the total caseload of the CGRS (the number of decisions for which the CGRS still has to take a decision) amounted to 12,663 files, 8,463 of which can be considered as a backlog and 4,200 of which can be considered as a normal caseload.
With the recruitment of new staff in 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, the initial intention was to start reducing the backlog from mid-2020 onwards. The Covid-19 context drastically changed the situation, due, among other factors, to the suspension of interviews and the delay in training new staff members. Currently, the caseload of the CGRS corresponds to that of March 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 crisis (12,790 files).
December was a turning point, as the caseload started to decrease. The CGRS has the necessary personnel to continue reducing its backlog in 2021 and intends to reduce the waiting period for a decision as soon as possible.