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Asylum Seekers in Europe Reached a 7-Year High Last Year. Syrians and Afghans File Most Claims

BRUSSELS (AP) — The number of asylum seekers in Europe reached a seven-year high last year, with more than 1.1 million people applying for international protection in 2023, most of them Syrian nationals, the European Union said Wednesday.

The increase in asylum seekers and other migrants is a divisive issue in many European countries, pitting those who say more should be turned away at borders against those who feel the continent should continue to welcome people fleeing persecution.

The EU asylum agency’s figures are compiled from claims in the 27 countries of the bloc, plus Norway and Switzerland.

The agency said 181,000 Syrians sought asylum last year — a 38% rise from 2022 — while Afghan nationals made up the second biggest group, with 114,000 claims filed, though the number of Afghans was 11% down, compared to 2022.

Syrians stood the best chance of all nationalities of having their claims accepted, the agency said.

More Palestinians lodged asylum applications last year — nearly 11,600, or two thirds higher than the year before.

Under international refugee law, people have the right to apply for asylum when they are fleeing conflict, fear for their safety or due to possible persecution over their race, gender, sexuality or religion. In Europe, people who apply because they are seeking jobs or better lives are often refused entry.

Germany received the most applications by far last year, with 334,000 people seeking asylum, but Cyprus was under the greatest pressure from migrants wanting to stay on the island, relative to its population. The agency said 12,000 people applied for protection in Cyprus in 2023.

France received 167,000 applications, Spain 162,000, and Italy 136,000. Combined with Germany, the four received more than two thirds of all the applications made in 2023.

People from Turkey — a candidate to become an EU member, though its talks are at a standstill over concerns about democratic and human rights standards — also applied in far greater number, with 101,000 asylum applications by Turkish citizens, up 82% from 2022.

Around one fifth of all the claims were made by people entitled to visa-free travel in Europe, including 68,000 Venezuelans and 63,000 Colombians.

The rise in applications, along with Europe welcoming in, at least temporarily, more than 4.4 million Ukrainians who have fled the war since Russia’s invasion two years ago, is overwhelming Europe’s asylum capacities. The agency said that in December, it was helping 13 countries to cope.

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