EU asylum applications fall to pre-2015 levels

The number of first-time asylum applications in the European Union has fallen to 580,845, Eurostat has reported. At the height of the migrant movements into Europe in 2015, asylum applications exceeded 1.2 million.

European Union states received 580,845 first-time asylum applications in 2018, about half the number received during the 2015 migrant crisis, the EU's statistics agency reported Thursday.

Human Rights | 17.12.2018

The 2018 figure marks an 11 percent fall from 2017.

The number of pending asylum applications in the EU totaled 878,600 at the end of 2018, down slightly from 927,000 a year earlier.

The findings confirm a downward trend of people entering the EU through irregular crossings. The EU border and coast guard agency, Frontex, estimated around 150,000 people made this type of voyage in 2018, the lowest number in five years.

Read more: Aid money alone will not be enough to stop the causes of migration

The number of asylum applications drastically increased in 2015 and 2016, when conflicts in Syria and other Middle Eastern nations escalated and caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

At the peak of the migrant movements, the number of first-time asylum-seekers in the EU exceeded 1.2 million. It was Europe's biggest spike in migration since World War II.

The countries of origin for first-time asylum-seekers in the EU in 2018 were:

  • Syria with 80,920 applications
  • Afghanistan 40,990 applications
  • Iraq 39,595 applications

Together, the three nations accounted for almost 30 percent of the total number of people claiming asylum in Europe in 2018.

Infografik Anzahl der Asyl-Neuanträge nach Herkunftsländern EN

Germany remains prime destination

In percentage terms, the migrants' destinations in 2018 were:

  • Germany — 27.9 percent of migrants
  • France — 19 percent 
  • Greece — 11.2 percent 
  • Spain — 9.1 percent 
  • Italy — 8.5 percent

Rome, which now has an anti-immigrant party sharing power in a coalition government, recorded the biggest drop in applications last year.

Some politicians and judges in Germany have complained that asylum applications are not made in their first EU state of entry. "Neither European nor national asylum law works. The whole system is dysfunctional," said Düsseldorf Administrative Court President Andreas Heusch earlier this month.

"We do not even manage to return asylum-seekers in the border town of Niederkrüchten just a few kilometers to the Netherlands or to Belgium within six months," Heusch said. "Our decisions are without consequences." 

Read more: UN refugee compact: What you need to know

Lowest application rates

Both Hungary and Poland currently have right-wing, populist parties in government, and Hungary has taken a hard-line approach to migration and asylum. They stood out with the lowest number of asylum applications per million residents in 2018:

  • EU-wide average was 1,133 applicants per million population 
  • Hungary received 65 applicants per million population 
  • Poland received 63 applicants per million population 

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Anything but home

More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it broke out in 2011, and millions have been forced to flee their homes. In a desperate move, many of them decide to catch trains, walk and even pay human smugglers to leave Syria for Europe. In this photo, Syrians conduct search and rescue operations after government forces staged an attack on residential areas in Damascus.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

First stop: Turkey

Some Syrians who come to Turkey's Izmir province before traveling by sea to Europe live in hostels, while others who can't afford a hostel room live in tents that they set up in parks and streets - or are forced to sleep outside, like this refugee girl lying on the pavement of an Izmir street.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Approaching Greece

After leaving Turkey, refugees hope to enter Europe through Greece. In this photo, a group of refugees rows an inflatable dinghy across a part of the Aegean sea from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Kos, hoping to continue their journey to western Europe. Kos has been unprepared for the huge influx of refugees that have landed on its shores.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Heading for mainland Europe

A young girl from Syria sleeps underneath passenger seats onboard a ferry during a ten-hour journey from Kos to the Greek mainland port of Piraeus. From Piraeus many refugees continue north to the Greek border, where they cross into Macedonia at the town of Idomeni. Since the beginning of 2015 thousands of migrants have used the so-called 'Balkans route,' continuing on to Serbia.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Sealed borders

Last month, Macedonia declared a "state of emergency" and said it would mobilize the army to stop refugees from crossing its borders. The move reversed previously lax border controls, so thousands of refugees arrived at the border thinking they would cross rather easily. In the picture, refugees cram into a full train heading to Serbia at the train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Resting in Belgrade

The number of migrants passing through Macedonia into Serbia is increasing. The Serb capital, Belgrade, is often used as a resting point. From the beginning of 2015 to mid-June, nearly 160,000 migrants landed in southern European countries, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the picture, refugees chat in a park in Belgrade.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

After Serbia, Hungary is overwhelmed

Lawmakers in Budapest have increased punishments for illegal border crossings as police continue to clash with refugees trying to leave the country. Hungary says it is enforcing EU rules that it must register all refugees caught crossing its borders, but thousands are demanding to be allowed to continue their journey - in this case, holding pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

Unexpected obstacles

The next stop after Budapest should be Austria. However, things don't always go as planned. Here, a young girl holds up a sign during a protest at Bicske Station, where some refugees have been taken to stay while Hungary processes their asylum requests. Many refuse to apply, fearing they will be sent back to Hungary if caught later in western and northern Europe.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

A warm welcome

Thousands of refugees have arrived in Austria and Germany after having been stranded in Hungary for days. Some of the refugees speak about their relief at finally being able to leave Hungary, which is run by the anti-immigrant right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Many Munich residents have turned out to help them feel at home at last.

A perilous trek: refugees' journey from Syria to Germany

What's next?

A German policeman helps refugees at Munich's main train station. Germany has given the refugees a very warm welcome, but German politicians have been discussing how to cope with the huge intake of people seeking asylum. The refugees' arrival poses numerous challenges not only for those who have fled, but also for those who take them in.

law/jm (dpa, Reuters)

Every day, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. Sign up for the newsletter here.