The number of people making first-time applications for asylum in the European Union jumped by 28% to reach more than half a million last year, according to data released by the bloc’s statistics office.
Numbers remained well below the peaks of 2015-16 that followed the outbreak of the war in Syria, but Europe is bracing for another surge as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced more than 3.5 million people to flee their homes in less than a month.
Eurostat reported 535,000 first-time asylum applications last year from non-EU citizens across the bloc’s 27 countries, reaching a level similar to that recorded in 2014.
Syrians have made up the largest share applicants for close to a decade, accounting for 18% last year, followed by Afghans at 16% and Iraqis at 5%.
Afghan asylum applications jumped around 90% from the previous year, following the takeover of the country by the Taliban in August, while Syrian and Iraqi applications both surged by more than 50%.
Meanwhile applications from citizens of Colombia dropped by 55%, those from Venezuelans fell 43% and those from Russians were down 20%.
Around a third of applicants were children aged under 18. Among those aged over 65 women outnumbered men, though across all age groups they made up fewer than one-in-three asylum seekers.
Some 28% of first-time applicants applied for asylum in Germany, followed by France, Spain, Italy and Austria – which together accounted for three-quarters of all applications in the EU.
Cyprus however recorded by far the highest rate of applicants per million residents, well over triple that of Austria, the second-highest.
Eurostat said nearly 759,000 applications remained pending at the end of last year.