Asylum requests in the EU have grown at an unusual rate in recent years. Until July 19, almost 420,500 applications had been registered, 87% more than in the same period of the previous year, according to data from the European Union Agency for Asylum (AAUE) to which EL PAÍS has had access. The exodus of Afghans, Syrians, Venezuelans and Ukrainians has triggered the figures; If the trend continues, those registered in 2019 will be exceeded, the last year of normality before the pandemic altered migratory flows and the asylum system itself. Spain, with almost 62,300 requests, is, after Germany, the country with the most requests for protection. In fact, the increase of 116% compared to the same period in 2021 has the Spanish authorities worried.
The Afghans, one year after the takeover of their country by the Taliban, lead the demands for international protection, with more than 51,000 requests. They are the largest nationality among applicants in France, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Switzerland or Portugal. They are followed by the Syrians, refugees from a war that began in 2011 and who lead the numbers in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta. Venezuelans appear in third place: among the more than 26,000 applicants from Venezuela, 89% of them requested asylum in Spain.
In fourth position, the Ukrainians are located. Although most of the 6.8 million exiles who have entered the EU after the Russian invasion have applied for temporary protection (a different mechanism that is not recorded in the asylum statistics), there are thousands of Ukrainians who have formalized a asylum request, especially in the Nordic countries, Romania, and some Baltic countries.
Asylum figures in Spain, which have more than doubled this year, “are very worrying,” according to two government sources. The concern is shared by the Ministries of the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Migration. The reception system was already stressed before the war in Ukraine, and the delays in starting the procedure and resolving the files are chronic because resources continue to be lacking.
Economic immigrants and refugees
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Privately, members of the Administration —and also NGOs— regret that in recent years the asylum system has become a resource for economic immigrants and not just for refugees. Faced with the difficulty in regularizing themselves, economic immigrants see asylum as the simplest and fastest way to remain legally in Spain because, while their case is being resolved, the State gives applicants the possibility of residing and working on a regular basis, in addition to provide shelter to those without resources. If the system worked as the law itself provides, the processing of the files would be much more agile – a maximum of six months – and those that do not meet the requirements would quickly leave the system. The current slowness in the registration, processing and resolution of the files harms the true refugees, who are in danger in their countries, and find themselves with a congested system that can keep them in uncertainty for more than two years.
María Jesús Vega, spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Spain, warns: “Although we frequently see requests that are not well founded, we insist to the authorities that the individualized study of each case is very important” . Vega explains that among the multitude of profiles of applicants who arrive in Spain, regardless of their nationality, they identify cases in which there is a real risk of persecution due to gender, religious, political, ethnic issues or due to the violence and power of certain groups. armed, as is the case in many Central American countries. “A refugee is not just a person fleeing a war,” she recalls. Among the main nationalities requesting asylum in Spain are, in addition to Venezuelans, who account for 40% of the almost 63,000 applications, Colombians (28%), Peruvians (7.4%), Moroccans (3.3% ) and Hondurans (2.6%), according to data from the EU asylum agency.
In the Ministry of Migration, headed by José Luis Escrivá, they consider that it is the lack of a good migration model that encourages an inappropriate use of international protection. Escrivá believes that the recent reform of the Immigration Regulations, which will allow more hiring at origin, can help create new paths for emigrants with exclusively economic aspirations. “Regular migration processes must replace those that are now used spuriously,” said the minister in a recent interview with EL PAÍS.
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