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EU Says Asylum Processing Has Slowed Nearly to a Standstill


Migrants are seen walking toward Austria in Sentilj, Slovenia, Oct. 30, 2015. Asylum-seekers hoping to reach Western Europe turned to crossing Slovenia after Hungary closed its border with Croatia with a barbed-wire fence.

The European Union says its asylum processing is so clogged with foreign migrants seeking refuge that it would take a year to process all pending applications if the migrant influx stopped immediately.

That analysis from the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office came Tuesday as thousands of migrants — many of them from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan — continued arriving daily on Greek islands before pushing westward through the Balkans to western Europe. Italy has also been inundated in the past year with migrants, mostly from Africa and Asia.

The EASO released data showing a backlog of 800,000 applications for international protection through September.

It also said that almost one in three migrants has been waiting at least three months for his or her application to be processed, and that 200,000 applicants have been waiting six months or longer.

Ahead of a two-day EU summit in Malta with African heads of state, the EASO also said it had received fewer than half the workers requested from EU countries to process asylum applications.

It said it had asked for more than 370 workers, but that only 177 asylum experts had so far been provided, slowing the process so much that only 147 migrants have been officially relocated in Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, France and Spain since an EU relocation plan was approved last month.

Some 60 European and African leaders are expected at the two-day summit at Valletta, Malta, which planners originally said would focus on issues of poverty, climate change and conflicts fueling the African exodus.

With anti-migrant sentiment growing on the continent, EU member Slovenia said earlier Tuesday that it planned to build "obstacles" on its border with Croatia in advance of an expected new spike in migrants bound for northern Europe this week.

But Prime Minister Miro Cerar, whose country last month found itself on the main Balkans route for thousands of migrants after Hungary sealed its borders, insisted that its frontier would remain open.

"We decided yesterday to start building, over the following days on the Schengen border with Croatia, some temporary technical obstacles," Cerar said Tuesday in the capital, Ljubljana.

"These obstacles, including fences if needed, will have the objective of directing migrants toward the border crossings. We are not closing our borders," he said.

Cerar said that "about 30,000 immigrants" were on their way toward Slovenia and that "a big number" of them could be stranded in the small Alpine state if neighboring Austria restricted their flow to an average of 6,000 a day.

Slovenia had been a staunch critic of fences between EU countries.

The surge of migrants is expected across the Balkans because thousands were stranded in Greece last week when a ferry strike prevented many from leaving Greek islands that were their first destination after a perilous sea crossing from Turkey. The four-day strike ended Monday, easing a migrant bottleneck.

More than 170,000 migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa have crossed Slovenia since mid-October, when Hungary closed its southern border with Croatia and effectively forced migrants to cross Slovenia to reach Austria.