Impact of Covid-19 on asylum procedures in EU Member States

Briefing 05-09-2022

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, and up to mid-April 2020, EU Member States were facing an extraordinary situation that led to the declaration of a health emergency. EU governments gradually took urgent measures to contain the spread of the virus, such as re introduction of border controls in the Schengen area, implementation of temporary travel restrictions, and introduction of sanitary measures. These had vast impact on both mobility and migration. Multiple measures also aimed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on foreign nationals residing on the territory of EU Member States. National responses to contain Covid-19 diverged both in nature and scope. Overall, restrictive measures affected asylum-seekers' right to look for protection on EU territory; their – and migrants' – right to access relevant procedures; their residence status and permits; and their enjoyment of other rights, such as access to health services. Member States had to adapt their asylum procedures swiftly to the pandemic. The measures focused on the extension of residence permits, regularisation of undocumented migrants, the release of migrants and asylum-seekers from detention centres, and suspension of forced returns. At the same time, new obstacles arose in ensuring an effective and fair asylum procedure for first-instance applications and appeals, relating for example to the quality of remote interviews, applicants' access to electronic tools and the skills needed to use them, and the quality of processes and data protection. After mid-April 2020, EU Member States gradually lifted restrictions, starting to adapt to the new reality after the pandemic. The European Parliament has addressed the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable groups, including asylum-seekers and refugees. At the same time, Parliament stressed that internal border controls and travel restrictions at the external borders should not affect the right to seek asylum.