The number of asylum requests in the EU increased for the first time last year since the 2015 refugee crisis, with a particular spike in Latin American applicants, according to a new report.
More than 700,000 people applied for protection in the EU in 2019, an increase of 13 percent over 2018, the report by the European Asylum Support Office released on Wednesday showed. But this is still about half the nearly 1.4 million applications lodged in 2015, mainly from the Middle East and Africa. Asylum requests had been on a downward trend since then, but the question of how to handle the influx of immigrants continues to divide EU countries.
“Today’s figures highlight that we remain well below the situation of a few years ago,” the EASO’s Executive Director Nina Gregori said in a statement accompanying the report, adding that the EU still needs a “sustainable, fair and crisis-proof asylum system.”
The report largely attributed the increase to asylum seekers from Latin American countries with visa-free access to the Schengen zone. The number of Venezuelan applicants, for example, roughly doubled between 2018 and 2019 to reach more than 45,000 amid political and economic turmoil in the country. This made Venezuela the third-biggest country of origin, outnumbering Iraq, Pakistan and Nigeria.
The top two countries of origin for asylum applicants were Syria and Afghanistan, accounting respectively for 10 percent and 8 percent of total requests.
Wednesday’s report also showed a jump in asylum applications over the second half of 2019, suggesting the trend may continue into 2020. At the same time, fewer migrants were found trying to enter the EU illegally, since many were able to enter the Schengen zone without a visa.
“Asylum applications were not particularly driven by irregular migration,” the report said.
In total, one-third of those making asylum claims were granted some form of protection across the EU last year, on par with recognition rates in 2018, the report said.
More than 900,000 asylum cases were pending at various stages of the review process, as of November 2019.