Asylum statistics for 2020 A need for regular and transparent official information

A need for regular and transparent official information

The Ministry of Migration and Asylum released on 19 January 2021an annual information note with statistics on the functioning of the Greek asylum system in the course of 2020.[1] The note is the first detailed set of data on the asylum procedure published by the Ministry following the suspension of regular publication of statistical reports by the Asylum Service. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA),[2] as well as Members of Parliament,[3] have highlighted the difficulties stemming from information gaps and emphasised the need to restore transparent and regular reporting on the implementation of asylum policy.

The present note offers clarifications and analysis of official Ministry of Migration and Asylum figures on the asylum procedure, arrivals and departures. It also highlights areas on which the provision of reliable and detailed information should urgently be restored, taking into consideration the government’s commitment before the Plenary of the Parliament to publish more detailed asylum statistics on a monthly and quarterly basis.[4]

ASYLUM PROCEDURE

Asylum applications

Throughout 2020, the Asylum Service registered 40,559 applicants for international protection. The main registration locations by Regional Asylum Office (RAO) or Autonomous Asylum Unit (AAU) across the territory were as follows:

According to figures supplied earlier in January by the Ministry in response to parliamentary questions,[5] the breakdown of registrations of applicants by main RAO/AAU and country of origin between March and October 2020 was as follows:

The annual note does not specify how many asylum claims were channelled into the fast-track border procedure under Article 90(3) of the International Protection Act (IPA), which continues to be systematically used by Greece. RSA recalls that, as of March 2021, Member States are required to provide Eurostat with data on the number of applications processed in an accelerated procedure following the entry into force of the amended Migration Statistics Regulation.[6]

First instance asylum decisions

In 2020, the Asylum Service issued a total of 81,502 first instance decisions, of which 57,146 decisions on the merits of asylum applications. A breakdown of in-merit decisions by type of decision and country of origin is available below:

The above figures indicate a significant increase in rejections on the merits of applications by Syrian nationals, from a mere 37 in 2019 to 1,234 in 2020. In addition, the recognition rate for Turkish nationals sharply dropped to 11.2% with 1,692 rejections on the merits throughout the year.

The remainder of decisions issued by the Asylum Service concern: inadmissibility without going into the merits of claims (9,484) on grounds such as “safe third country”, the Dublin Regulation, protection in another Member State, and subsequent applications without new elements; suspension decisions (4,340); explicit withdrawals (1,148); termination decisions (8,934).

More specifically, a total of 2,839 inadmissibility decisions were issued on the basis of the “safe third country” concept, of which 2,837 to Syrian nationals and 2 to Palestinians from Syria. These figures point to an exponential increase in the use of the “safe third country” concept from 245 decisions in 2019 to 2,839 in 2020, despite the indefinite suspension of readmissions to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal since March 2020. RSA stresses that, pursuant to EU and domestic law, namely Article 86(5) IPA, where the country designated as “safe third country” for an individual applicant does not allow the applicant to enter its territory, the asylum application is examined on the merits by the competent asylum authorities.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum refers to 10,313 first instance decisions pending notification. Of those, 4,965 were taken in 2020 and 5,348 in previous years.

Second instance asylum decisions

The information note of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum presents statistics on the second instance asylum procedure before the Appeals Committees. However, crucial data on the work of the Committees such as legal aid and oral or written examination of appeals are not included, even though the Appeals Authority has an obligation to regularly publish such information.[7]

A total of 12,931 appeals against Asylum Service decisions were lodged in 2020. Of those, 8,365 were lodged on the mainland and 4,566 on the Eastern Aegean islands. The Appeals Committees issued 25,013 decisions:

The recognition rate at second instance decreased from 5.5% in the first half of the year[8] to 5.2% at the end of the year, due to a drop in positive decisions both on the islands and on the mainland.

As regards Syrian nationals in particular, the Appeals Committees issued 130 refugee status decisions and 1,590 rejections. For Afghan nationals, 458 refugee status decisions, 49 subsidiary protection decisions and 2,254 rejections.

The sum of 25,013 decisions of the Appeals Committees includes 370 decisions referring appellants for a residence permit on humanitarian grounds and 171 decisions reverting cases back to the first instance.

In addition, the Appeals Authority took 1,295 decisions pursuant to Article 113 IPA rejecting pending appeals which had been lodged prior to 21 July 2016, as no requests were submitted by the persons concerned to continue the examination of their appeal.

Judicial review of asylum decisions

Throughout the year, 1,118 applications for annulment of Appeals Committee decisions were lodged before the Greek administrative courts. According to the Ministry’s statistics, 111 decisions were issued in 2020, while 1,007 applications are pending. Only 2 out of 111 decisions accepted the annulment application.

RSA recalls that the examination of most annulment applications by Administrative Courts has currently been suspended, pending the outcome of a pilot procedure before the Plenary of the Council of State relating to the constitutionality of IPA provisions transferring competence for judicial review of second instance decisions (often taken by Committees composed of higher-level judges) from Administrative Courts of Appeal to the Administrative Courts of Athens and Piraeus.

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

Since July 2020, the government has used the term “departures” of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection from Greece,[9] which include outgoing Dublin transfers and relocations to other European countries. RSA stresses, however, that these categories of movements refer to widely different types of transfers of people out of Greece and should not be conflated in statistics.

Similar to previous notes, the annual note of the Ministry compares the ‘net balance’ of “arrivals / departures” from the country. It calculates “arrivals” solely based on irregular arrivals registered by the Hellenic Police. On the one hand, there are significant disparities in the number of newcomersbetween Ministry (14,848) and UNHCR (15,669) data.[10] On the other hand, official figures omit incoming Dublin transfers and readmissions of beneficiaries of international protection to Greece,[11] which continue to take place in the context of the Common European Asylum System.

Dublin Regulation and relocation

According to the note, the number of outgoing Dublin transfers last year was 1,941, of which 778 concerned Afghan nationals, 295 Syrian nationals and 240 stateless persons. However, no detailed statistics are provided on Dublin procedures managed by the Dublin Unit, as was the case in the monthly Asylum Service reports which covered inter alia: outgoing “take charge” and “take back” requests by criterion (e.g. family unity, irregular entry) and Member State; acceptances and rejections of requests by other Dublin Units; transfers by country.

Available figures indicate a drop in Dublin transfers from 2,542 in 2019 to 1,941 in 2020. Yet, an in-depth analysis of the Dublin procedure is not possible in the absence of more detailed statistics – to assess the acceptance rate of Greek Dublin Unit requests, for instance. Moreover, no data are provided on the number of incoming Dublin requests and transfers in 2020, as stated above.

As regards relocation, the publication of detailed figures by voluntary relocation scheme[12] and by country of origin of unaccompanied children is welcome. Specifically, the main countries of origin of the 573 unaccompanied children relocated under the EU voluntary relocation scheme to various Member States were Afghanistan (390), Syria (57), Pakistan (29), DRC (24), Egypt (17) and Somalia (14).

It is nevertheless important to highlight that transfers of asylum seekers within the scope of relocation are also Dublin transfers, carried out under the Article 17(2) “humanitarian clause” according to the administration.[13] Therefore, relocation statistics should at least clarify that the Dublin Regulation is applied in the context of relocation. Resorting the provision of detailed statistics as kept by the Asylum Service would allow for such clarifications to be made, as it would document the breakdown of outgoing requests and transfers by criterion of the Regulation.

Returns

Out of 7,151 returns carried out in 2020, 3,660 were forced returns, 2,565 were voluntary returns with support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and 926 were voluntary departures following the issuance of a return decision. Almost half of the total number of returns relate to Albanian nationals.

As indicated in the Ministry’s note, 139 forced returns to Turkey took place under the EU-Turkey deal in 2020.

Notes

  1. Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Ετήσιο ενημερωτικό σημείωμα 2020, 19 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3p0HVlF.
  2. RSA, ‘Asylum statistics for 2020 should be published and unpacked’, 14 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3aaPPUH.
  3. KINAL, Parliamentary question: ‘Αποκατάσταση της διαφάνειας στα στατιστικά στοιχεία που αφορούν το Άσυλο και την έκβαση των αιτημάτων ασύλου πολιτών Συρίας’, 11 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/38VHEuG.
  4. Hellenic Parliament, Plenary Session ΞΓ΄, 18 January 2021, 169 et seq., available at: https://bit.ly/2XVOXw3.
  5. Ministry of Migration and Asylum, Reply to parliamentary question, 593/2020, 15 January 2021, available: https://bit.ly/38Uv6nn.
  6. RSA, Στατιστικά στοιχεία για μία πληρέστερη εικόνα του ασύλου, June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3qtmEBs.
  7. RSA, ‘Asylum statistics for 2020 should be published and unpacked’, 14 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3aaPPUH.
  8. RSA, ‘The Greek asylum appeal procedure in the first half of 2020’, 21 August 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2LNxCmO.
  9. RSA, ‘Statistics on returns from Greece in 2020: Key observations’, 13 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3jJSyYw.
  10. UNHCR, Mediterranean situation: Greece, available at: https://bit.ly/3qy4Ipf.
  11. RSA, ‘Lack of effective integration policy exposes refugees in Greece to homelessness and destitution, while returns from European countries continue’, 4 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3rE2ipQ.
  12. At least 4 different programmes of voluntary relocation from Greece were implemented in 2020, namely: (a) relocation of 573 unaccompanied children to different countries; (b) relocation of 1,024 children and their families to Germany; (c) relocation of families to France; (d) relocation of recognised refugees to different countries. See IOM, Voluntary scheme for the relocation from Greece to other European countries, 14 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/35Xxvf4.
  13. See Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, ‘Πληροφορίες σχετικά με το πρόγραμμα μετεγκατάστασης ασυνόδευτων ανηλίκων’, 322 (ΙΙ)/21-09-2020, in response to an RSA information request.

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