Malta is one of only three European countries where the number of asylum applications dropped in 2022, at a time when protection requests in the EU hit a six-year high.
According to a new report by the European Union Agency for Asylum, nearly a million applications were last year lodged for international protection in EU+ countries (EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
This means that across Europe, asylum applications increased by over 50% when compared to 2021 and were two-fifths higher than the pre-COVID level of 2019.
More applications were lodged in all countries, except in Malta, Lithuania and Liechtenstein – where they decreased, as well as Latvia – where they remained stable.
According to data published in the report, Malta saw an increase in applications from 2,130 in 2018 to 4,090 in 2019, followed by a gradual drop in the following three years.
Some 1,320 asylum applications were filed in 2022 – a drop of 17 per cent over 2021. A fifth of applicants were Syrian.
The data shows that in 2022, EU countries took decisions on 646,000 asylum applications.
Nearly two out of every five were positive, granting the applicant either refugee status or subsidiary protection. This was the highest since 2017 and the rise was mainly due to more positive decisions being issued to Syrians. All but a fraction of those lodged by Ukrainians and Eritreans also succeeded.
Recognition rates dropped substantially in Austria and Switzerland, and – to a lesser extent – Italy, Norway and Romania, with the report noting they “continued to decline” in Cyprus (19% to 6%), Ireland (56% to 34%) and Malta (22% to 15%). In all other EU+ countries, recognition rates in 2022 were higher than, or similar, to 2021.
On average, in 2022 there were about 216 applications for asylum per 100,000 inhabitants across EU+ countries, with 15 of these 31 countries receiving fewer applications per 100,000 inhabitants. The countries that received the least asylum applications per capita were Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia.
Relative to the territorial size of countries, most applications continued to be lodged in Malta, with four per square km. On average, 0.2 applications were lodged per square km across Europe.
Situation along the Mediterranean routes
The number of so-called ‘irregular border crossings’ detected in the central Mediterranean route rose by more than one-half to about 106,000 in 2022, making it the second-most important route after the western Balkan one.
For the third consecutive year, crossings along this route outnumbered asylum applications in Italy and Malta, the two countries along this route.
However, while asylum applications lodged in Malta were lower than in the previous year, applications in Italy increased by over one-half in 2022.
Transfers to Malta halted
The EUAA report flags several transfers to Malta (under Dublin rules) that were halted due to the country’s detention policy.
Among others, the Tribunal of Rome annulled the transfer decision of a Bangladeshi national who had been detained in Malta for 16 months, fell ill due to the conditions and had to be hospitalised for two months. He claimed to have left the country due to fear of persecution linked to his brother’s membership in a political party.
Likewise, the Dutch Council of State upheld a case concerning a Libyan mother and child who suffered trauma in Malta and experienced PTSD. The court stated that the child would be at risk of a significant and irreversible impact on her health if transferred back to Malta.
The council added that, even though the medical advice concluded that the child was physically fit to travel, the Dutch authorities should have been more active to fulfil their duty to clarify any serious doubts about the impact of the transfer on the child’s health.
Separately, the Constitutional Court in Austria disagreed with a decision by the Federal Administrative Court when it found a transfer of a Syrian national to Malta admissible.
The Syrian national claimed he would be detained upon return and that the conditions in detention in Malta would violate his rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.