A man rides his bike past a makeshift tent camp outside the Petite Chateau reception center in Brussels, Belgium | Photo credit: AP
Almost 1 million people applied for international protection in the EU in 2022, according to figures published on Wednesday, bringing the number of asylum applications to levels similar to those seen during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis. Not seen since.
The European Union Agency for Asylum said 966,000 asylum applications were made in 27 EU countries, as well as Norway and Switzerland, last year, a 50 percent increase over 2021. In the EU, a special mechanism has been activated to prevent the already backlogged refugee system from collapsing.
The European agency linked the increase to the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, increased food insecurity and conflicts in many parts of the world.
Although most asylum seekers enter the EU legally, typically by air with a travel visa, some enter the EU without authorization, mainly via the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea. Borders were also crossed.
After more than a decade of war and economic collapse in their country, Syrians top the list of asylum seekers in Europe with more than 130,000 applications. They were closely followed by Afghans fleeing security, humanitarian and financial crises, with 129,000 applications after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
In third place were applicants from Turkey, which doubled with 55,000 applications. Rising inflation and a “democratic retreat” were among the factors believed to have contributed to the increase, the agency said.
In many places, reception centers are overflowing, leaving asylum seekers on the streets.
The recent earthquakes that killed around 46,000 people and displaced millions in Turkey and Syria have raised fears of a possible increase in illegal border crossings into Greece.
Germany earlier this month offered to temporarily ease visa restrictions for some earthquake victims, while Spain pledged to resettle a small group of 100 vulnerable Syrian refugees from Turkey, up from 40. It is home to millions of refugees.
Venezuelans, Colombians, Bangladeshis and Georgians applied for asylum in record numbers last year, as did Moroccans, Tunisians and Egyptians. About 4 percent of asylum seekers in 2022 claimed to be unaccompanied minors.
The European agency did not say which EU countries received the most requests last year. But a report on internal EU migration seen by the Associated Press places Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Italy in the top five.
Asylum officials issued decisions on more than 600,000 applications last year but received even more new cases, adding to the existing backlog.
Of the applications analyzed, 40% were granted refugee status or subsidiary protection, mostly to Syrian, Belarusian, Eritrean, Yemeni, and Malian applicants, as well as to most Ukrainians who sought asylum rather than temporary protection. Chose to apply.