Asylum seekers in the EU 07.08.2014

Which country takes in most refugees?

Due to international crises, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees expects a further increase in the number of refugees in 2014. Is it true though that Germany receives most asylum seekers among European countries? Migration researcher Dietrich Thränhardt has analyzed the actual "burden" refugees represent for the German asylum system.

According to the European statistics office Eurostat, about 435,000 people have applied for asylum in a member state of the European Union (EU) in 2013 – one quarter of them in Germany. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has registered 109,580 initial applications and 17,443 repeat applications. In terms of absolute numbers Germany is thus at the top of European countries. France comes in second with 65,000 asylum seekers and Sweden third with 54,000.

Germany has not always been the frontrunner of the ranking of host countries. In the course of the last five years the number of asylum applications has increased considerably: in 2013 Germany saw 70 percent more applications compared to 2012, according to the UNHCR.

But the picture is quite different when taking into account the size of the population in relation to the number of asylum applicants: In 2013 the highest ratio of refugees per capita was found in Sweden (5.7 applications for asylum per thousand inhabitans) followed by Malta (5.3 applications), reported Eurostat. Germany with its strong economy finished in seventh with 1.5 asylum seekers per thousand inhabitants – behind Austria (2 applications for asylum per thousand inhabitans), Luxembourg (1.9) Hungary (1.9) and Belgium (1.8).

Migration researcher Dietrich Thränhardt has analyzed the "burden" related to the increasing numbers of refugees in an article for the Journal of Foreign Law and Foreign Policy. Most statistics only count the applications and not how many refugees are actually accepted. According to Thränhardt, however, "it is essential to know, how many refugees are allowed to stay in the country, how they are accomodated and how much suffering the country is able to ease by doing so.”

Only one third receives protection in the EU

Considering the absolute number of refugees who are actually granted protection, Germany is again ahead. In the whole of the EU a total of roughly 112,000 asylum seekers were recognized as in need of protection – which amounts to about every third application. In Germany the protection rate was 26 percent with roughly 20,000 positive decisions – that is every fourth application. Excluding all formal decisionsThese cases do not require an official decision, due to withdrawal, marriage or the Dublin regulation, which states that the first member state through which a refugee enters the EU is responsible for the application for asylum., the "adjusted” protection rate adds up to 39 percent.

According to Thränhardt this figure needs to be set in relation to the population. He looked at the recognition rates comparing European countries for the year 2012. Germany granted protection to a total of 17,140 people, followed by Sweden with 9,000, France with 8,645 and Italy with 8,480 positive decisions. Compared to the size of the population, however, the pictures changes again: Norway took one refugee per thousand inhabitants, Sweden 0.9 and Switzerland 0.5. The big member states Germany, France and Italy were far behind with respectively 0.2 and 0.1 refugee per thousand people.

Congestion in the German asylum administration

Germany is also experiencing serious administrative problems, says Thränhardt. Similarly to what happened in the early 1990s applications for asylum are accumulating in the federal offices. Since 2008 the BAMF can no longer process all the newly made requests. Consequently a rising number of applications has piled up during recent years. At the end of January 2014 there were about 100,000 open files.

Problems of human as well as political nature arise with this growing congestion, as Thränhardt pointed out in a article for the Mediendienst from 2013: asylum seekers have to wait a long time for their official hearing. They are forced to live for months and years in transitional situations, characterized by inaction and uncertainty; in many cases together with their children, who are often traumatized by persecution. After all, the gouvernment has approved a staff expansion for the asylum section of the BAMF. It is currently recruiting 300 new employees.