When refugees come to Europe, the odyssey is far from over for most of them: people are often stuck in asylum procedures for months and even years. This not only wears down those affected, but also those states that have to take in most of the migrants.
In order to finally get the problems in Greece, Italy and Spain under control, the EU Commission published proposals for a new regulation of the EU asylum policy at the end of last month. A central aspect: the acceleration of asylum procedures through so-called screenings.
EU proposal: asylum screening at the external border and migrants in camps?
According to the ideas of the Commission, it should be decided at the EU’s external borders which asylum procedure the migrants will go through. The decisive factor is the admission rate for the respective country of origin. If the newcomers come from a country with a low recognition rate – this includes above all safe countries of origin – the asylum application should be processed in a new, faster border procedure. The screening process to determine the identity should not take longer than five days. The entire border procedure no longer than twelve weeks.
Families with children under the age of twelve and young people under the age of 18 who are traveling without parents are exempt from this procedure. During the proceedings, the EU Commission does not rule out the possibility of migrants being held in closed camps.
Refugees: Administrations are already unable to keep up
However, there are reasonable doubts as to whether the Commission’s plan is really workable. Asylum expert Jochen Oltmer from the University of Osnabrück explains that administrations in countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece are already overloaded. “There is a lack of staff, but also the necessary expertise.”
A look at Germany also shows how ambitious the EU Commission’s plans are. In response to the high number of refugees in 2015 and 2016, the capacities of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) were massively increased – making the office the largest migration authority in Europe.
“Compared to 2015, there are around 2,500 more household items available. The number of decision-makers rose to almost 1700, ”explains the BAMF when asked by FOCUS Online.
In Germany, too, accelerated procedures are carried out in the so-called anchor centers, especially if the applicants come from safe countries of origin. But the BAMF is far from the EU Commission’s target of 12 weeks, despite the increase in staff. According to information from “Welt”, the BAMF needed an average of 5.2 months for an accelerated procedure in 2019. With normal procedures, the processing time is 6.1 months.
Why does it take so long to review asylum applications?
In addition to a lack of staff, the complexity of many applications ensures that asylum procedures cannot be processed in piecework. Identifying the refugees’ countries of origin in particular is a major hurdle. “In the vast majority of cases, the applicants do not have valid ID with them. Often, people’s origins can only be determined through language tests, but this also requires the necessary experts. And even if documents are available, their validity has to be checked in a time-consuming process, ”says Expert Oltmer, describing the problem.
Not all EU countries are interested in rapid asylum procedures
The migration expert assumes that by far not all EU states have an interest in rapid asylum procedures. In Greece, for example, the fear of a possible suction effect would often stand in the way of more efficient procedures. And in southern Italy and southern Spain, on the other hand, migrants without a valid residence status and without legal wage entitlement are employed in agriculture, explains the expert. “That also reduces the interest in deciding on asylum applications more quickly.”
Refugees: the Netherlands as a pioneer in efficient asylum procedures?
The Netherlands shows that things can go faster. A few years ago, a so-called “fast-track” procedure was introduced there as part of an asylum reform. Asylum seekers are divided into three categories, which sort the applications according to their chances of success. As in Germany, applicants from safe countries of origin have a significantly lower chance of asylum. According to the Dutch Migration Agency, the processing of applications for this group takes just four weeks in 99 percent of cases.
But the comparison to Germany lags. Because in the Netherlands only 25,195 asylum applications were submitted in 2019, in Germany 165,615 in the same period. However, the absolute number of asylum procedures plays a major role in the speed with which applications are processed, says asylum expert Oltmer: “The big difference can mainly be attributed to this.”
For asylum seekers outside the fast-track procedure, however, the review takes significantly longer in the Netherlands as well. Refugees with good prospects for asylum sometimes wait up to a year for their decision.
Asylum policy: is speed a quality feature?
Migration expert Oltmer has his doubts about whether speed is really a quality feature with regard to EU asylum policy. “A fair and just asylum procedure takes time,” he warns. The goals of the EU Commission don’t take this into account. Much more important is finally to find a common position among the member states on the asylum issue: this is the only way to achieve uniform standards to install.
The EU Commission dares to venture in this direction at least with its proposal to develop the EU Asylum Office (EASO) into a real asylum agency with decision-making powers. The office has already sent asylum experts and clerks from the member states to support the local authorities at the EU’s external borders. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough.