While Germany saw a decline in the number of refugee applications in 2017, France witnessed the highest number of asylum applications in 40 years during 2017 and anticipates a further rise this year.
Pascal Brice, director general of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) told French broadcaster CNEWS that the number of asylum applicants in the country had increased by 17 percent, with more than 100,000 requests registered last year.
“France is one of the top countries for seeking asylum in Europe” after Germany, which expects to receive just under 200,000 requests for asylum in 2018,” Brice said.
Brice noted a sharp rise in the number of requests from Albanian and West African nationals with 7,630 applications from Albania and 5,987 from Afghanistan — the second most common country of origin.
Speaking to Arab News, professor Christian Dustmann, director of the Center for Research and Analysis on Migration (CReaM) said: “The political fallout has been quite tremendous in Europe so clearly European countries have tried to make sure that the influx of asylum seekers will be reduced.”
“That has seen some success so things have calmed down a little bit but in the longer run this will not totally abate.”
Neil Grungas, executive director of the organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (Oram) pointed to “signs of instability” elsewhere in the region, including the recent uprising in Iran and the possibility of further crackdown on protesters by the regime. “We don’t yet know what will be the impact in terms of outflow from Iran.”
“Also, the fact that ISIL (Daesh) has been apparently quelled in some sections of Syria and in Iraq doesn’t mean they are gone. We can expect the kind of radicalism and the kind of political pressures that we’ve seen to carry on further and further.”
“People will need to leave…some because they are living in war zones and others because they are tired of living in situations of perpetual displacement,” he added.
“There is a lot of political instability in the Middle East so I don’t see that this will now disappear completely, I think we will live with this challenge for a very long time to come,” Dustmann said.
A series of regime air strikes in rebel-held Idlib in Syria on Sunday, which killed at least 40 people, sent thousands fleeing north toward the Syrian border.
Kerem Kinik, president of the Turkish Red Crescent Society, told Arab News earlier this week that in the past fortnight around 64,000 Syrians have traveled from the south of Idlib toward the north.
“We are doing our best to accommodate them in our camp between Idlib and our southern border,” he said.
A report released by The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in March 2017 found that counties bordering Syria hosted the vast majority of refugees, with more than 5 million people seeking refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as Egypt and Iraq.
The controversial deal struck between the EU and Turkey last year, which left many refugees stranded on Greek islands, was designed to stem the flow of migrants crossing into Europe but relations between the signatories have since deteriorated.
The EU’s deal with Turkey is “beginning to fray around the edges” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, and a senior fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe program.
“It’s quite possible that you will continue to have very large numbers of people displaced from Syria to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and that many of those will continue to try and make their way to Europe if they see that as being a potentially feasible thing to do.”
For those trying to cross into Europe, the journey has grown increasingly difficult and perilous since more countries closed off migration routes.
“Even if applications are going up in France, there’s still quite a strong cohort of people in Calais who are in the dire conditions because there is no official camp and there are more and more restrictions on what services can be provided for them,” said Fizza Qureshi, Director of the Migrants’ Rights Network.
“For us the concern is there are no easy routes for protection, so a lot of people are having to put themselves into the hands of traffickers.”
“Its incredibly difficult for people who end up in places like Hungary and some of the other Eastern European countries that are very unwelcoming at the moment to refugees.”
“There needs to be a much more rights-based approach to refugee protection.”