BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) – Nearly one million people applied for international protection in the European Union (EU) in 2022, according to data published yesterday, bringing the number of asylum requests to a level not seen since the refugee crisis of 2015-2016.
The EU agency for asylum said 966,000 asylum applications were made in the 27 EU countries as well as in Norway and Switzerland last year, up 50 per cent from 2021.
That doesn’t include more than four million Ukrainian refugees who were granted temporary protection in the EU, a special mechanism activated to avoid collapsing already backlogged asylum systems.
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. 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 spiralling security, humanitarian and financial troubles that followed the Taleban takeover in August 2021, with 129,000 requests.
Coming in third were applicants from Turkiye who doubled in numbers with 55,000 requests.
Soaring inflation and “democratic backsliding” were among the factors believed to have caused the increase, the agency said.
In many places, reception centres are overwhelmed, leaving asylum-seekers in the streets.
The recent earthquake that killed nearly 46,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Turkiye and Syria has 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 Turkiye, which is home to four million refugees.
Venezuelans, Colombians, Bangladeshis and Georgians applied for asylum in record numbers last year, as did Moroccans, Tunisians and Egyptians. Some four per cent of asylum-seekers in 2022 claimed to be unaccompanied minors.