EU countries received an average of 669 thousand first-time asylum applications per year between 2012 and 2020. During that time however, decisions were only reached on an average 218 thousand. As this infographic combining various Eurostat datasets shows, the European Union, hardly known for an aversion to bureaucracy, was already well off the pace prior to the influx of refugees from Syria in 2015 and 2016.
Germany, the EU country hosting the largest share of migrants from Syria during the crisis, had an average application processing time of 7.3 months for all caseloads in 2016, according to figures from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Nationals of countries other than Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, however often face even longer processing times. The ECRE reports that "Somali applicants wait on average 21.9 months before receiving a first instance decision."
The influx of applications in 2015 and 2016 was overwhelming for a system already burdened by an "often cumbersome" process and pre-existing backlog. As the ECRE states: "In other countries such as Cyprus, the first instance procedure has often taken 2 to 3 years for nationalities that are not prioritised, thereby raising serious questions of compliance with the right to good administration". The EU as a whole, facilitated strongly by Germany's approach, can hardly be accused of being unwelcoming to the refugees of the crisis. But the administrative structure in place to deal with asylum applications has reflected its status as a fortress for bureaucracy.