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IMMIGRATION

Germany sees sharp drop in asylum requests in 2020

The number of people seeking asylum in Germany in 2020 fell by 30 percent compared with the previous year, official data showed Sunday, as closed borders and coronavirus lockdowns slowed arrivals.

Germany sees sharp drop in asylum requests in 2020
A woman with a child arrive at Hanover airport in September 2020 after the Greek refugee camp Moria burned down. Photo: DPA

Germany's Interior Ministry recorded just over 76,000 first-time asylum applications last year, 31.5 percent fewer than in 2019.

Most of the requests came from nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey, it said in a statement.

A further 26,520 asylum applications were made for children under the age of one who were born in Germany to non-nationals, bringing the total number of applications to 102,581.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the drop in asylum seekers could partly be attributed to the pandemic, which disrupted international travel and saw some countries resort to border closures, especially during the first wave of cases in the spring.

READ ALSO: Should Germany step up support for refugees after Moira camp blaze?

But Seehofer, a hardline conservative, also pointed out that the number of asylum seekers in Germany has been falling steadily over the past four years, which he said “showed that our measures to steer migration are working”.

Just over 37,800 people were newly recognised as refugees in Germany last year.

Influx five years ago

Germany saw a huge influx of migrants five years ago after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the country's doors to those fleeing conflict at the height of Europe's migrant crisis.

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany manage the refugee crisis

In 2015, Germany saw more than 400,000 first-time asylum applications, followed by over 700,000 requests the following year.

The new arrivals deeply polarised the country and fuelled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which rails against immigration and Islam.

The German government has responded by toughening its migration policies and stepping up deportations of rejected asylum seekers or refugees convicted of violent crimes.

A decision to lift a general ban on deportations to war-ravaged Syria from 2021 has been heavily criticised by rights groups however, even if the government says it will only be applied to those deemed a security risk.

The refugee rights group Pro Asyl told DPA news agency on Sunday that Germany's low asylum seeker figures were a result of “Europe's rigorous border closures”.

Many migrants were currently “stuck in misery” in winter temperatures in Bosnia after their camp burnt down, it added, “even tough the current asylum figures show: Germany has room”.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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