Strong increase in the number of applicants
In 2021, 25,971 persons submitted an application for international protection to the Immigration Office. This includes 949 persons who arrived in Belgium by way of resettlement. This number is much higher than in 2020, when 16,910 persons submitted an application. The increase amounts to 53.6 %. The number of applicants was almost as high as in 2019 (pre-COVID period), when 27,742 applicants were registered.
In 2021, an average of 2,164 applicants were registered every month, compared to 1,409 in 2020 and 2,311 in 2019.
In January and February 2021, the number of applicants in Belgium was still relatively low (1,377 and 1,422), but gradually increased. From July onwards, the monthly number of applicants greatly exceeded the 2,000 mark, with a peak of 3,326 applicants in September. This exceptionally high number can be explained mainly by the Red Kite evacuation operation, during which many Afghans came over to Belgium and filed an application for international protection. Additionally, 237 persons who came to Belgium by way of resettlement also submitted an application in September.
In 2021, 72.4 % of applicants were men and 27.6 % women. For some countries such as Afghanistan, the proportion of male applicants is even higher (89.7 %). For other countries, there is a more even balance (men represent 64.2 % of Syrians and 59.7 % of Somalis).
In 2021, the main countries of origin of applicants for international protection in Belgium were Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Eritrea and Somalia.
Afghanistan occupies un undisputed first place, with 6,506 applicants in 2021, including 1,352 who filed a subsequent application (20.8 %). The events last summer in Afghanistan clearly had an impact on the number of applicants from this country. In August, 948 applicants from Afghanistan were registered, including a high number of subsequent applicants (424, i.e. 45 %). In September, 1,121 Afghans submitted an application; 977 persons filed their first application, a large number of whom came over as part of the Red Kite evacuation operation.
Syria occupies the second place in 2021 (with 2,874 applicants, 906 of whom came over by way of resettlement). Palestine is third, with 1,662 applicants, including 463 who filed a subsequent application (27.9 %). Eritrea occupies the fourth place (1,558 applicants), followed by Somalia (1,116 applicants).
In 2021, 5,432 persons filed a subsequent application for international protection in Belgium. In terms of percentage, the proportion of subsequent applications compared to the total number of applications was almost the same as the previous year (20.9 % in 2021 compared to 22.5 % in 2020). For some countries such as El Salvador (55.7 %), Iraq (51.2 %) and Kosovo (57.9 %), the number of subsequent applications exceeded the number of first applications.
In 2021, the Immigration Office registered 3,219 applicants for international protection who declared to be unaccompanied foreign minors. After examination by the Guardianship Service, 1,976 of them were considered to be actual minors (in 2020, there were 1,764 'declared minors' and 1,335 'actual minors'). As many as 95 % of unaccompanied foreign minors are boys and 76.3 % of all unaccompanied foreign minors are Afghans. Eurostat figures show that Belgium, together with Austria, has registered the highest number of unaccompanied foreign minors from Afghanistan in 2021.
Secondary migration in Europe
The number of applications for international protection rose sharply not only in Belgium. A sharp increase in the number of applicants was also observed in the neighbouring countries and in Austria. However, in the Scandinavian countries, which used to be popular destination countries, a downward trend is noted. An important factor in the rising number of applicants is the increase in secondary migration within the EU (for both persons with a protection status and persons without a status). It is clear that Belgium, together with our neighbouring countries and Austria, is more popular than other EU Member States.
Increase in the number of decisions
In 2021, the CGRS took 18,513 decisions for a total of 23,248 persons. This is an increase of 29.7 % compared to last year.
In 2021, in 43.5 % of the final decisions, the CGRS concluded that the applicant needed protection. This amounts to a total of 7,528 decisions granting protection status to 10,093 persons.
39 % of these decisions were decisions granting refugee status and 4.5 % were decisions granting subsidiary protection status.
In 2021, the highest number of refugee statuses were granted to Syrians, Palestinians, Eritreans and Afghans. In 2021, the highest number of subsidiary protection statuses were granted to Afghans, Syrians, Yemenis and Somalis in 2021.
Higher protection rate
In 2021, the protection rate was significantly higher than in the previous year (43.5 % compared to 34.1 %). The main reasons are:
- The number of persons who arrived in Belgium by way of resettlement (949 persons in 2021 compared to 176 persons in 2020). As their application has already been fully assessed before their departure and a positive advice regarding the need for international protection is given, the CGRS generally grants refugee status upon arrival in Belgium without further investigation.
- Since the temporary partial suspension of the notification of decisions for applicants from Afghanistan, which took effect in mid-August, almost exclusively decisions recognizing refugee status were taken regarding Afghan nationals.
- In addition, as part of special actions, a substantial number of decisions were taken for UNRWA Palestinians and applicants from Eritrea and Burundi, who in many cases were granted protection status.
In addition, the number of inadmissibility decisions (mainly for subsequent applications and for applications of persons who already have a protection status in another EU Member State) remains strikingly high. In 2021, this represented 23.8 % of all decisions. In 2020, this percentage was even higher: 26.3 %. These cases have to be treated as a priority. If we leave out the inadmissibility decisions, the protection rate is 58.3 %.
This difference also becomes apparent if we take a closer look at the protection rate for some countries.
For Afghanistan and Syria, the protection rate is 46.3 % and 77 % respectively. But for the decisions on the substance (without counting the inadmissibility decisions), the protection rate is 75.8 % and 96.5 % respectively.
This means that many applicants are still in need of protection.
Dirk Van den Bulck (Commissioner General) on the mission of the CGRS: "For the CGRS it remains crucial to consistently grant an international protection status when there is a real need for protection. This independently of any possible side effects. It is also necessary to avoid that a protection status is granted without any valid reason, because this could create the perception that asylum can be obtained in Belgium without any valid ground.”
Increase in case load
Despite a higher number of decisions taken in 2021, the case load (the number of cases for which the CGRS still has to take a decision) rose to 15,685 cases (18,835 persons) due to a strong rise in the inflow. 11,485 of these cases can be considered as backlog and 4,200 cases as a normal work reserve. The case load increased especially at the beginning of the year due to the high number of cases that the Immigration Office transferred to the CGRS. Since March, the case load has remained at approximately the same level and the backlog has not increased.
The CGRS could have taken more decisions last year if it had not been for:
- A temporary partial suspension of the notification of decisions for applicants from Afghanistan;
- The special COVID context. The impact of the sanitary situation on the handling of files cannot be underestimated. In various ways. For instance, only 14,888 of the 18,371 personal interviews planned in 2021 could take place. A significant part of personal interviews had to be cancelled due to illness or quarantine of staff members, applicants and interpreters.
Additional reinforcement is planned for 2022 (30-35 case officers for file processing and 6-8 staff members for administrative support).
Dirk Van den Bulck (Commissioner General) on reducing the backlog and on an efficient asylum policy: "I consider the processing backlog to be extremely problematic, in the first place for the applicants who have to wait too long for a decision in uncertain circumstances. The CGRS will therefore continue to do its utmost to reduce the backlog, by taking as many decisions as possible. With the additional reinforcement, the staff capacity will exceed 500 FTEs. This capacity will enable us to reduce the backlog over a period of 3 years. This is feasible unless the number of applications increases further. Should this happen, additional measures will be required."
"In addition to reducing the backlog, it is crucial to strengthen the application of the Dublin Regulation (given the great importance of secondary migration) and to have an integrated approach, including an efficient return policy."