This might be Europe’s most overstretched agency.
The European Asylum Support Office is responsible for getting European states to cooperate on issues of asylum. Ahead of a meeting in Malta—which, as a southern European island, is on the forefront of the refugee crisis—the agency said that there were about 780,000 applications for asylum pending in the 28 countries in the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland.
It would take a year to process all of the people currently waiting for a decision, even if new arrivals stopped coming.
Europe has the capacity to process well under 100,000 a month, it noted. But between May and September 2015, the number of applications increased by almost 70%.
Processing asylum applications isn’t simple. For one thing, people come from incredibly diverse places and have very different needs. In September, for example, 36% of applicants were from Syria, 15% from Iraq, and 12% from Afghanistan. But 9% came from the western Balkans, a region which accounts for much of the backlog which already existed prior to the increased flows seen this year.
Applications from that area are very rarely successful.
EASO said it needed more experts to be sent from member states to refugee and migrant arrival “hotspots,” like the Italian island of Lampedusa and Lesvos, a Greek island that lies very close to the coast of Turkey.
The agency’s approach is to find the best places to relocate individuals once applications have succeeded. But the tiny increments in which this has so far been possible looks woeful in comparison to the hundreds of thousands in need.