VALLETTA, Malta – The European Union's asylum system is so clogged with applications that it would take a year to clear the backlog even if migrants stopped coming to Europe immediately, EU data showed Tuesday.
The applications of more than 770,000 people seeking international protection in the EU were on hold in the month of September, according to the European Asylum Support Office. Currently, the 28 EU countries are only able to process around 60,000 cases per month.
Almost one in three people have been waiting at least six months for their applications to be processed. More than 200,000 have been in limbo for six months, in a trend that EASO calls "worrying."
The EASO figures were made public on the eve of a major migration summit of EU and African leaders in Malta.
The data will do little to ease concerns that people seeking refuge in Europe will have to be held longer-term in reception centers. Applicants are not supposed to leave the country where they apply but many are moving on, and applying elsewhere as they move toward preferred destinations like Germany or Sweden.
Germany has the highest number of pending cases in Europe, with some 346,000 on hold in the month of August. Most have been made by people who were born in Balkan countries and who have very little chance of being granted asylum.
Addressing the Maltese parliament, EU Council President Donald Tusk said that asylum applications were "at an all-time record number that would test any democracy."
The statistics show that more than half of asylum applications were lodged by people from Syria, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Fewer are coming from Africa, although many Eritreans are applying.
The EU considers that most of the people now arriving from Africa are looking for work and do not qualify for asylum.
Some 60 European and African leaders are expected at the two-day summit in Valletta, which is aimed at tackling issues like poverty, climate change and conflict which are forcing people to leave.
The EU also hopes to tie up a number of agreements so that people who do not qualify can be sent back to their homes in Africa more quickly.
On the eve of the summit, Mohamed Abdulkadir Omar — a 25-year-old Somali granted asylum in Malta — was not optimistic that the summit will bring results.
"Do you think that they can finish the terrorist groups that we have in our country? Do you think that they can stop the war in our country?" he said. "They can't."
Maria Grazia Murru contributed to this report.