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New figures show refugee arrivals to the Mediterranean country outnumbering those in Germany, thanks to asylum-seekers from Latin America. But a resurgent "Islamic State" could prompt more people to flee Iraq and Syria.
Germany is no longer the top destination for asylum-seekers in Europe, according to a German media report on Wednesday. German daily Die Welt, citing unpublished numbers from the European Union's asylum agency EASO, reported that Spain has surpassed Germany in the number of asylum applications received, as the coronavirus pandemic begins to shift longstanding migration patterns.
Per data collected from each EU member state, as well as Switzerland and Norway, German authorities received 33,714 asylum applications from January to April of this year, while in the same time period Spain received 37,471. France and Greece were the next most common destinations.
Unlike Germany, which mostly saw asylum-seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Spain's came predominantly from Latin America, according to the figures shared by Welt. From Colombia and Venezuela came 32% each, and 6.5% came from Honduras.
EASO, in a comment to DW, did not confirm — but also did not dispute — the figures published by Welt.
Venezuela has long been suffering from shortages of basic necessities such as medicine, food, and fuel — despite being one of the most oil-rich nations on earth — under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro. The price of food, already exorbitantly expensive, has increased by 80% under the country's coronavirus lockdown. Some 70% of doctors have emigrated from the country and one in five hospitals do not have sufficient water supply.
Applications drop 43% during lockdown
Overall, closed borders and lockdowns have curtailed the number of refugees arriving in the EU significantly. According to EASO figures published in April, asylum applications across the bloc were down 43% overall for the first three months of 2020, compared to the first quarter of 2019. Just before the outbreak, EASO noted, applications were up by 16% in January compared to that month the previous year.
However, there are worries that a recently resurgent "Islamic State" (IS), as well as poor health conditions in conflict-torn nations in the Middle East, may prompt a new wave of people to flee. With foreign-led anti-IS campaigns rolled back significantly due to the pandemic, IS militants have been emboldened by the power vacuum and begun a new spate of attacks. Some 30,000 fighters in the border region between Iraq and Syria are believed to still be active.