Nearly 1 million people sought asylum in the European Union in 2022, highest since 2016 and surging 50% over 2021, according to data released Wednesday.
The lifting of the COVID-19 curbs also pushed the number of asylum requests to a level not seen since the refugee crisis of 2015-2016.
The EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA) said 966,000 asylum applications were made in the 27 EU countries as well as in Norway and Switzerland last year. That compared with 1,251,815 claims in 2016.
That doesn’t include more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees who were granted temporary protection in the EU, a special mechanism activated to avoid collapsing already backlogged asylum systems.
According to the EU statistics agency Eurostat, only 2% percent of the 4 million applied for asylum.
Still, that made for over 28,000 Ukrainians who applied for asylum in the EU in 2022 — the most ever registered.
Syrians and Afghans were the two main nationalities seeking protection in Europe, together accounting for a quarter of the claims.
Migrants from Türkiye, Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Georgia were the next biggest groups, though in smaller numbers.
The European agency linked the increase to continuing easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, increasing food insecurity and conflicts in many parts of the world.
Though most asylum-seekers enter the EU legally, mainly by plane with travel visas, some also crossed the EU’s land and sea borders without permission, mainly through the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean.
Syrians, Afghans top list
After more than a decade of war and economic collapse in their country, Syrians continued to be the top nationality of asylum-seekers in Europe with more than 130,000 applications.
They were followed closely by Afghans fleeing the spiraling security, humanitarian and financial troubles that followed the Taliban takeover in August 2021, with 129,000 requests.
Coming in third were applicants from Türkiye who doubled in numbers with 55,000 requests. Followed by a threefold year-on-year increase in claims from Venezuelans and Colombians, some 51,000 and 43,000 respectively.
After came smaller numbers from Bangladeshis, Georgians, Ukrainians, Indians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Nigerians and Somalians.
The 16th-biggest group of asylum-seekers was Russians, with 16,920 claims.
Then came applicants from Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Albania, Peru and Eritrea.
The data also showed the highest number of unaccompanied minors – 43,000 – since 2015, when more than a million asylum-seekers, mostly from war-torn Syria, came to Europe for protection.
Two-thirds of the unaccompanied minors came from Syria and Afghanistan.
In many places, reception centers are overwhelmed, leaving asylum-seekers in the streets.
The European agency, however, didn’t say which EU countries received the most applications last year. But an internal EU migration report seen by the Associated Press lists Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Italy as the top five.
The recent earthquakes that killed nearly 46,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Türkiye and Syria have raised fears of a potential surge in irregular border crossings into Greece.
Germany offered earlier this month to temporarily ease visa restrictions to some quake survivors while Spain promised to resettle a small group of 100 vulnerable Syrian refugees from Türkiye, which is home to 4 million refugees.
Asylum authorities issued decisions on more than 600,000 applications last year but they received even more new cases, adding to the existing backlog.
Of the applications analyzed, 40% were granted refugee status or subsidiary protection, mostly for Syrian, Belarusian, Eritrean, Yemeni, and Malian applicants, as well as for most of the Ukrainians who chose to apply for asylum instead of temporary protection.