Asylum applications in EU at highest level since 2016 crisis

Data likely to add to debate about migration and far-right sentiment ahead of local, national and European Parliament elections

Asylum applications in the EU jumped 18 per cent to 1.14 million in 2023, the highest level since the 2015-2016 migrant crisis, data from the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) showed on Wednesday.

The new data will likely fuel an already heated debate about migration and far-right sentiment in advance of local and national votes across the continent as well as European Parliament elections in June.

Syrians and Afghans remained the largest applicant groups, according to the EUAA data. In a new trend, Turkish nationals made up the third largest applicant group, lodging 82 per cent more applications than in the previous year. The number of Palestinians applying for asylum rose to a record high of nearly 11,600 in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, it said, noting it was difficult to correctly register their number given a majority of EU member countries do not recognise Palestine as a state.

Germany was once more the leading destination of asylum seekers in the EU, receiving nearly a third of all applications, while Cyprus received by far the most applications in relative terms – one per 78 inhabitants.


While the 2023 asylum applications are just under 2016 levels, they come on top of the 4.4 million Ukrainians that have sought refuge from Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the European Union – and do not need to formally apply.

The EUAA data comes a month after the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, registered the highest rise in irregular border crossings since 2016.

Such high levels have galvanised discussion about how to curb migration as some local authorities say they are overwhelmed.

The European Union has tightened external borders and its asylum laws since the 2015-2016 crisis, and struck deals in the Middle East and North Africa to have more people stay there.

The bloc also reached a landmark agreement in December on new rules designed to share the cost and work of hosting migrants more evenly and to limit the numbers of people coming in. But some parties say those rules do not go far enough.

In a separate development on Wednesday, French authorities were dealing with an “incident” in the English Channel involving a small boat thought to have been carrying asylum seekers looking to reach Britain.

A report by the i newspaper said as many as three people may have died while the vessel was still in French waters.

The newspaper reported that migrants who were attempting to reach Britain fell into the sea on Wednesday off the coast of Cap Gris-Nez, located west of Calais. Citing French authorities, the report said 180 people were pulled to safety by rescue operators.

One person was recovered unconscious and could not be resuscitated by the crew, and two others were missing, the report said.

A British government spokesman said: “We can confirm there has been an incident in the Channel involving a small boat in French waters. French authorities are leading the response and investigation. We will not be commenting further at this stage.”

Home Office figures this week showed that more than 2,000 migrants had arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the strait between England and France. The number of Channel arrivals was 32 per cent lower than the total of 2,953 recorded this time last year, but 49 per cent higher than the total of 1,482 at this stage in 2022. – Reuters/PA

– Reuters