Applications for asylum in the European Union rose for the first time since 2015 and the trend is expected to continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) has said.
EU member states reported an 11 per cent increase in the number of asylum applications last year — the first annual rise since the height of the migrant and refugee crisis.
The increase is due in part "to a sharp rise in applicants from Venezuela (+103 per cent over 2018) and Colombia (+214 per cent over 2018)," the EASO said.
"Some EU+ countries — such as Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain — received more asylum applications in 2019 than during the so-called migration crisis in 2015 and 2016," it added.
Germany processed 22 per cent of the 738,425 asylum applications recorded across the EU, followed by France (17 per cent), and Spain (16 per cent).
Syrians, Afghans and Venezuelans were the most numerous applicants.
"A notable development in 2019 was the number and share of positive decisions granted to applications from Venezuela. The recognition rate for Venezuelans was 96 per cent in 2019, compared to just 29 per cent in 2018," the EASO said.
The increase in the number of applications has increased also in 2020, with a 16 per cent rise recorded in the first two months of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic has since led to a dramatic 87 per cent reduction.
"Only about 8,700 applications for international protection were registered in EU+ countries in April, the lowest since at least 2008," the EASO noted.
But, it continued, "as national and travel restrictions begin to ease, EASO respects that asylum applications will begin increasing and return to pre-COVID-19 trends."
"In May, asylum applications were already rising again, albeit slowly," it added.
A sharp increase in irregular border crossings was reported by Frontex for the Eastern Mediterranean route, with 83,300 in 2019 compared to 56,600 in 2018. This trend has placed additional pressure on the Cypriot and Greek asylum and reception systems.
The number of irregular arrivals along the Western Balkan route more than doubled in 2019, with Frontex reporting 15,150 arrivals, compared to about 5,900 in 2018.