Asylum applications rose in the EU in 2019, official figures showed on Wednesday, driven by a dramatic increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking sanctuary from political and economic crises.
More than 714,000 applications were submitted, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) said, an increase of 13 percent on the year before and the first annual rise since 2015.
EASO said the growth was largely due to applications from countries with visa-free access to the EU’s Schengen common travel area rather than irregular entries such as the boat crossings over the Mediterranean and Aegean seas seen during the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015-16.
The top three countries of origin for migrants were Syria with 72,000, Afghanistan with 60,000 and Venezuela with 45,000.
“Most of the increase is accounted for by the large number of applications lodged by applicants who are exempt of visa requirements when entering the Schengen Area,” EASO said.
The office said this explained why applications had increased but detections of “illegal entry” had fallen.
The figure for Venezuela is more than double the total of 22,000 seen in 2018, as the oil-rich but unstable Latin American state continues its plunge into economic ruin and political chaos.
But EASO said just five percent of Venezuelan applicants were granted asylum - in contrast to Syrians, Yemenis and Eritreans, all of whom had recognition rates above 80 percent.
Overall around one in three applicants were granted some form of protection in 2019, EASO said.