Number of people claiming asylum in Europe at seven-year high

Syrians made up the largest number of those seeking refuge, with 181,000 applying last year

A Syrian civil defence volunteer, known as the White Helmets, stands on the rubble of destroyed buildings during a rescue operation following a government forces air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Bustan Al Basha in the northern city of Aleppo, on October 4, 2016. AFP
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The number of people applying for asylum in Europe reached a seven-year high last year, the EU said on Wednesday.

Latest figures show that more than 1.1 million people applied for international protection in 2023, with most of them Syrian nationals.

Many European nations are struggling with the divisive issue of the increase in arrivals of asylum seekers and other migrants.

Some say more should be turned away at borders; others feel the continent should continue to welcome people fleeing persecution.

The EU asylum agency’s figures are compiled from claims in the 27 countries of the bloc, plus Norway and Switzerland.

The agency said 181,000 Syrians sought asylum last year – a 38 per cent rise from 2022 – while Afghan nationals made up the second biggest group, with 114,000 claims filed.

But the number of Afghans was 11 per cent down compared to 2022.

Syrians stood the best chance of all nationalities of having their claims accepted, the agency said.

More Palestinians lodged asylum applications last year – nearly 11,600, or two thirds higher than the year before.

Under international refugee law, people have the right to apply for asylum when they are fleeing conflict, fear for their safety or due to possible persecution over their race, gender, sexuality or religion.

In Europe, people who apply because they are seeking jobs or better lives are often refused entry.

Germany received the most applications by far last year, with 334,000 people seeking asylum, but Cyprus was under the greatest pressure from migrants wanting to stay on the island, compared to its population.

The agency said 12,000 people applied for protection in Cyprus in 2023.

Migrants arriving in Europe - in pictures

France received 167,000 applications, Spain 162,000, and Italy 136,000. Combined with Germany, the four received more than two thirds of all the applications made in 2023.

People from Turkey – a candidate to become an EU member, although its talks are at a standstill – also applied in far greater number, with 101,000 asylum applications by Turkish citizens, up 82 per cent from 2022.

About one fifth of all the claims were made by people entitled to visa-free travel in Europe, including 68,000 Venezuelans and 63,000 Colombians.

The rise in applications, along with Europe welcoming in, at least temporarily, more than 4.4 million Ukrainians who have fled the war since Russia's invasion two years ago, is overwhelming Europe’s asylum capacity.

The agency said that in December it was helping 13 countries to cope.

Updated: February 28, 2024, 10:06 PM