Number of EU asylum applicants jumps 44 per cent, fuelled by people fleeing Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The number of applicants for asylum to EU countries increased last year to 626,000, a surge of 44 per cent fuelled by refugees from the civil war in Syria, the European Union's statistics agency said Friday.

The overall figure for asylum applicants increased by 191,000 over the previous year, with the number of Syrians rising to 122,800 from 50,000 in 2013, Eurostat said.

In 2014, Germany registered the highest number of requests, with 202,700 or 32 per cent of the total, it said.

It was followed by Sweden with 81,200, or 13 per cent of the total, then Italy with 64,600 or 10 per cent, France with 62,800 or 10 per cent, and Hungary, with 42,800 or 7 per cent.

"It should be noted that these five member states registered different trends last year," it added.

Compared with 2013, the number of asylum applicants in 2014 more than doubled in Italy, up 143 per cent, and in Hungary, up 126 per cent.

Italy has been most concerned with a wave of migrants making dangerous boat voyages across the Mediterranean, mainly from Libya.

The figure increased by 60 per cent in Germany and 50 per cent in Sweden, but decreased by 5 per cent in France.

"Compared with the population of each member state, the highest rates of registered applicants were recorded in Sweden," it said.

There were 8.4 applicants per thousand inhabitants in Sweden, well ahead of Hungary at 4.3, Austria at 3.3, Malta at 3.2, Denmark at 2.6 and Germany at 2.5.

"In contrast, the lowest rates were observed in Portugal, Slovakia and Romania. In 2014, there were 1.2 asylum applicants per thousand inhabitants in the EU," it added.

Syria was the main country of origin for asylum seekers last year, followed by war-torn Afghanistan with 41,300, and poverty-stricken Kosovo, with 37,900.

Out of 360,000 decisions taken by member states on asylum requests in 2014, 163,000 were positive, with the status of refugee or temporary protection granted.

Nearly a third of these decisions were taken in favour of Syrians.

Many human rights organisations have complained that the EU has taken too few refugees, while countries bordering Syria have admitted some four million people fleeing the war.

In its defence, the EU said it is the leading donor to victims of the crisis, providing more than €3.2 billion (S$4.7 billion) in humanitarian aid.