The number of people seeking asylum in Europe after fleeing conflict zones to the east is still well down compared to the peak years of the refugee crisis.
That’s according to official figures which confirm that levels are more or less back to where they were in 2014, before the surge in refugees from the Middle East.
The European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat reports a slight rise in the number of new arrivals claiming asylum in its latest quarterly figures. They show that almost 165,000 people claimed asylum for the first time from July to September.
However, this increase was perhaps to be expected in the summer months, and follows three consecutive falls. The overall picture shows a large drop compared to the same period in 2016.
'Back to 2014 levels'
Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis applied for refugee status in far fewer numbers in the third quarter of this year, compared to the same quarter last year. The number of Afghans dropped by some 85 percent, while those coming from Syria, Iran and Iraq fell in number by around 70 percent.
But these nations continue to top the list by citizenship among the first-time applicants in EU28 countries. Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans lodged 26,600, 12,500 and 9,900 applications respectively.
There was also a fall in new applications from some of the main African countries on the list, such as Nigeria (-37%), Eritrea (-32%) and Somalia (-49%).
Meanwhile, there was a sharp rise in the number of new asylum seekers from Turkey (+35%), Venezuela (+123%), and especially from Palestine (+168%).
Germany the top destination
Germany remains the top destination for first time asylum applicants. More than 46,000 sought official refuge in the third quarter of 2017, 28 percent of the EU total. However, the trend shows a large decrease: these numbers are a fraction of the 240,000 who applied for asylum in the country in the summer of 2016.
Bulgaria and Hungary were among European countries which also saw a decline in new asylum seekers, while Romania witnessed a significant increase – although with numbers remaining in the hundreds.
Italy continues to see many asylum seekers, with the second highest number of applicants (141,300) over the past 12 months after Germany (214,600). With more than 32,000 claims in the third quarter, there was only a small decline of some six percent compared to the same period last year.
Relative to their countries’ populations, Cyprus and Greece had the highest proportion of first applicants, with well over 1,000 per million inhabitants. Slovakia was bottom of the table, with just four per million (in two months in the 2016-17 period there were no asylum applicants at all).
The Eurostat figures suggest the bottleneck in the processing of asylum requests is easing, with a “slow decrease” in the number of applications still pending. Of more than 200,000 first instance decisions in the third quarter of 2017, Germany issued by far the most (over 90,000).
Some 43 percent of asylum decisions in the EU were positive, the figures show, with most being issued to Syrians, followed by Afghans and Iraqis.