The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) published this week a report on asylum applications from the Western Balkans, in which it examined the factors influencing asylum seekers from the Western Balkan region applying to EU Member States and Associated Countries (Switzerland and Norway). Included within the EASO-grouped category of ‘Western Balkans’ are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.
EASO identifies the transition from communism to democracy, revenge killings, societal problems for minority or specific ethnic groups (e.g. discrimination against Roma), fragile labour markets, inadequate education systems, deficient health systems, as so-called “push factors”, i.e. reasons for seeking asylum.
According to EASO “pull factors”, i.e. elements attracting asylum seekers to a destination country, include lengthy asylum procedures, the amount of cash benefits paid during these procedures, geographical proximity to country of origin, a possibility to find work, and the existence of a diaspora in the destination country.
EASO underlines that the number of applications lodged in the EU by persons from the Western Balkan region has increased from about 19,000 applications in 2008 to 53,000 in 2012, 16% of all EU asylum claims in 2012. According to the EASO Asylum Report for the Second Quarter of 2013, in the first half of 2013 the majority of applicants from the Western Balkan region came from Albania and Serbia.
EASO highlights that applicants from the Western Balkans faced a rejection rate of 96% in 2012. However, recognition rates vary depending on country of origin and destination: Eurostat statistics (accessed on 22 November 2013) indicate that Albanian asylum seekers enjoyed a high recognition rate in the UK, with 29.5% of all first instance decisions being positive in the first half of 2013 (180 out of 610). By contrast, the recognition rate for Albanians in France over the same period was 4% (15 out of 390). Serbian asylum seekers experienced a 45% recognition rate in Italy (85 out of 190). Germany, however, only recognised 0.5 % of all Serbian applicants in the first half of 2013 (20 positive decisions out of 3,455 decisions taken).
EU Member States and Associated Countries have responded to the increase in applications from the Western Balkans with a number of measures aiming at dissuading the asylum seekers’ choice of destination country, including the introduction of accelerated procedures for manifestly unfounded applications (by means of so-called “safe country of origin” concepts, as it is the case for instance in France for Serbia and BiH), the reduction of cash benefits, and the strengthening of voluntary or forced return programmes. Furthermore, border states to Western Balkan countries have tightened border controls in order to dissuade persons from crossing the border at all.
EU steps taken to reduce the “push factors” include socioeconomic measures to enhance the well-being of vulnerable societal groups and awareness-raising campaigns.
EASO concludes that, due to the large number of unfounded applications, targeting the “pull factors” attracting asylum-seekers would seem to be the “most effective of the possible measures in the shorter term”.
According to Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, who presented last week an issue paper entitled ‘Right to leave a country’, Western Balkans states are pressured by the EU to reduce the number of their citizens applying for asylum in the EU, under the penalty of seeing all their nationals subject to mandatory visa requirements. “Not surprisingly, the authorities of some of these states are restricting the departure of individuals whom they consider at risk of applying for asylum, the vast majority of whom are Roma”, Muižnieks added.
“The fact that persons of specific ethnic groups are suspected of being more likely to leave their country than others and exercise their right to seek asylum can only reinforce concerns that persons of that ethnic group are indeed in need of international protection as their human rights are not fully protected in their own country”, Muižnieks said.