Data extracted on 16 March 2018 and 18 April 2018 (part on final decisions).
Planned article update: March 2019 and late April 2019 (part on final decisions).
Asylum applications (non-EU) in the EU-28 Member States, 2006–2017
This article describes recent developments in relation to numbers of asylum applicants and decisions on asylum applications in the European Union (EU). Asylum is a form of international protection given by a state on its territory. It is granted to a person who is unable to seek protection in his/her country of citizenship and/or residence, in particular for fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
Number of asylum applicants: drop in 2017
Having peaked in 1992 (672 thousand applications in the EU-15) when the EU Member States received many asylum applicants from former Yugoslavia and again in 2001 (424 thousand applications in the EU-27), the number of asylum applications within the EU-27 fell to just below 200 thousand by 2006.
Focusing just on applications from citizens of non-member countries (see Figure 1), there was a gradual increase in the number of asylum applications within the EU-27 and later the EU-28 through to 2012, after which the number of asylum seekers rose at a more rapid pace, with 431 thousand applications in 2013, 627 thousand in 2014 and around 1.3 million in both 2015 and 2016. As such, the number of asylum applications within the EU-28 in 2015 and 2016 was approximately double the number recorded within the EU-15 during the previous relative peak of 1992. In 2017, nearly 705 thousand asylum seekers applied for international protection in the Member States of the European Union (EU). This was just over half the number recorded in 2016, when nearly 1.3 million asylum applicants were registered. This figure is comparable to the level recorded in 2014, before the peaks of 2015 and 2016.
First-time applicants: 560 thousand fewer in 2017
The number of first time asylum applicants in the EU-28  in 2017 was 650 thousand, which was 55 thousand (about 8 %) less than the total number of applicants. A first-time applicant for international protection is a person who lodged an application for asylum for the first time in a given EU Member State and therefore excludes repeat applicants (in that Member State) and so more accurately reflects the number of newly arrived persons applying for international protection in the reporting Member State.
This latest figure for 2017 marked a decrease of 560 thousand first-time applicants across the EU-28 in comparison with the year before, as the number of first-time applicants fell from 1.2 million in 2016 to 650 thousand in 2017. This followed on from a slight decrease of 50 thousand first-time applicants between 2015 and 2016. The main contributions to the decrease were lower numbers of applicants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, (see Figure 2).
Citizenship of first-time applicants: most from Syria and Iraq
Syria was the main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States in 2017, a position it has held each year since 2013. In 2017, the number of Syrian first-time asylum applicants in the EU-28 fell back to 102 thousand from 335 thousand in 2016, while the share of Syrians in the EU-28 total dropped from 27.8 % to 15.8 %. Despite this drop, Syria was the main country of citizenship in fourteen EU Member States.
Iraqis accounted for 7 % of the total number of first-time asylum applicants and Afghanis for 7 %, while Nigerians and Pakistanis accounted for 6 % and 5 % respectively.
Among the most numerous groups of citizenship of first-time asylum applicants in the EU-28 in 2017, the largest relative increases compared with 2016 were recorded for Nigerians (share up 2.2 percentage points) and Bangladeshi and Guineans (up 1.6 percentage points each). There was also considerable growth in relative terms in the number of applicants from Turkey, Venezuela, Côte d’Ivoire, as well as from Eritrea and Albania. The largest relative fall in the number of applicants, among the most common countries of citizenship for asylum seekers in 2017 (except for Syria), was recorded for Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians .
Countries of destination: Germany, Italy and France the main
With 198 thousand applicants registered in 2017, Germany accounted for 31 % of all first-time applicants in the EU-28. It was followed by Italy (127 thousand, or 20 %), France (91 thousand, or 14 %), Greece (57 thousand, or 9 %), the United Kingdom (33 thousand, or 5 %) and Spain (30 thousand, or 5%).
Among Member States with more than 5 thousand first-time asylum seekers in 2017, the number of applicants compared in relative terms with the previous year rose most in Spain (+96 %, or 15 thousand more first-time asylum seekers in 2017 than in 2016), France (+19 %, or 14 thousand more), Greece (+14 %, or 7 thousand more) and Italy (+4 %, or 5 thousand more). In contrast, the largest relative decreases were recorded in Germany (-73 %, or 520 thousand less first-time asylum seekers in 2017 than in 2016), Austria (-44 %, or 18 thousand less), the Netherlands (-17 %, or 3 thousand less) and the United Kingdom (-15 %, or 6 thousand less) (see Figure 3).
Table 1 provides an overview of the five largest groups of first-time asylum applicants (by citizenship) in each of the EU Member States. Syrians accounted for the largest number of applicants in 14 of the 28 EU Member States, including 49 thousand applicants in Germany (the highest number of applicants from a single country to one of the EU Member States in 2017) and 16 thousand in Greece. Some 22 thousand Iraqis applied for protection in Germany and 8 thousand in Greece, while 16 thousand Afghan applicants were recorded in Germany and around 7 thousand in Greece and in France. Other Member States with high number of applicants of a single citizenship in 2017, were Italy with 25 thousand applicants from Nigeria and 12 thousand from Bangladesh, France with 11 thousand from Albania and Spain with 10 thousand from Venezuela.
Age and gender of first-time applicants
More than four in five (82 %) of the first-time asylum seekers in the EU-28 in 2017 were less than 35 years old (see Figure 4); those in the age range 18–34 years accounted for slightly more than half (51 %) of the total number of applicants, while nearly one third (31 %) of the total number of first-time applicants were minors aged less than 18 years.
This age distribution of asylum applicants was common in almost all of the EU Member States, with the largest share of applicants being those aged 18–34. However, there were a few exceptions to this pattern: Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany reported a higher proportion of asylum applicants less than 18 years old (higher than 45 %).
The distribution of first-time asylum applicants by sex shows that more men than women were seeking asylum. Among the youngest age group (0–13 years), males accounted for 52 % of the total number of applicants in 2017. There was a greater degree of gender inequality for asylum applicants who were 14–17 or 18–34 years old, where around three quarters of first-time applicants were male, with this share dropping back to just over three fifths for the age group 35–64. Across the EU-28, female applicants outnumbered male applicants in 2017 for asylum applicants aged 65 and over, although this group was relatively small, accounting for just 0.6 % of the total number of first-time applicants.
Applications by unaccompanied minors
An unaccompanied minor is a person less than 18 years old who arrives on the territory of an EU Member State not accompanied by an adult responsible for the minor or a minor who is left unaccompanied after having entered the territory of a Member State. In 2017 there were 31.8 thousand applications in the EU-28 from unaccompanied minors; 13 % of all minors were unaccompanied (see Figure 6). Among minors who applied for asylum, the share that was unaccompanied was less than half in all EU Member States in 2017.
First instance decisions on asylum applications
Data on decisions on asylum applications are available for two instance levels, namely first instance decisions and final decisions taken in appeal or review. The 28 Member States of the EU granted protection status to 538 000 asylum seekers in 2017, down by almost 25% from 2016.
In 2017, nearly 1 million first instance decisions were issued in the all EU Member States, slightly down the number in 2016 (1.1 million). By far the largest number of decisions was issued in Germany (see Figure 7), constituting more than half (54 %) of the total first instance decisions in the EU-28 in 2017.
Figure 8 provides an analysis of the outcome of first instance decisions. Though refugee and subsidiary protection status are defined by EU law, humanitarian reasons are specific to national legislation and are not applicable in some of the EU Member States.
In 2017, nearly half (46 %)  of EU-28 first instance asylum decisions resulted in positive outcomes, that is grants of refugee or subsidiary protection status, or an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons (see Figure 8). For first instance decisions, some 23 % of all positive decisions in the EU-28 in 2017 resulted in grants of refugee status.
A total of 222 thousand persons were granted refugee status in the EU-28 in 2017 at first instance, 159 thousand were given subsidiary protection status, and 63 thousand were given authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons.
The highest shares of positive first instance asylum decisions in 2017 were recorded in Ireland (89 %) and Lithuania (78 %) and Latvia (74 %). Conversely, Czech Republic, Poland and France each recorded first instance rejection rates of more than 70 %.
Final decisions taken in appeal
The share of positive final decisions based on appeal or review (36 %; see Figure 9) was slightly lower in the EU-28 in 2017 than for first instance decisions (45 %; see Figure 8). Around 95.2 thousand people in the EU-28 received positive final decisions based on appeal or review in 2017, of which 49.6 thousand were granted refugee status, 31.1 thousand were granted subsidiary protection, and a further 14.6 thousand were granted humanitarian status.
Only in four EU Member States were more than half of final asylum decisions in 2017 positive: Finland (65 %), the Netherlands (59 %), the United Kingdom (57 %) and Austria (56 %).
The highest shares of final rejections were recorded in Slovakia, Slovenia and Estonia, where all final decisions were negative.
Eurostat produces statistics on a range of issues relating to international migration. Between 1986 and 2007, data on asylum was collected on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement. Since 2008 data have been provided to Eurostat under the provisions of Article 4 of Regulation (EC) 862/2007; most of the statistics presented in this article were collected within this regulatory framework.
Data are provided to Eurostat with a monthly frequency (for asylum application statistics), quarterly frequency (for first instance decisions) or annual frequency (for final decisions based on appeal or review, resettlement and unaccompanied minors). The statistics are based on administrative sources and are supplied to Eurostat by statistical authorities, home office ministries/ministries of the interior or related immigration agencies in the EU Member States.
Two different categories of persons should be taken into account when analysing asylum statistics. The first includes asylum seekers who have lodged a claim (asylum application) and whose claim is under consideration by a relevant authority. The second is composed of persons who have been recognised, after consideration, as refugees, or have been granted another kind of international protection (subsidiary protection), or were granted protection on the basis of the national law related to international protection (authorisations to stay for humanitarian reasons), or were rejected from having any form of protection.
Since the entry into force of Regulation (EC) 862/2007, statistics on asylum decisions have become available for different stages of the asylum procedure. First instance decisions are decisions granted by the respective authority acting as a first instance of the administrative/judicial asylum procedure in the receiving country. In contrast, final decisions in appeal or review relate to decisions granted at the final instance of administrative/judicial asylum procedure and which result from an appeal lodged by an asylum seeker rejected in the preceding stage. Since asylum procedures and the number/levels of decision making bodies differ among the EU Member States, the true final instance may be, according to the national legislation and administrative procedures, a decision of the highest national court. However, the applied methodology defines that final decisions should refer to what is effectively a final decision in the vast majority of cases: in other words, once all normal routes of appeal have been exhausted and there is no possibility to appeal on the substance of the decision but only on procedural grounds.
The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees (as amended by the 1967 New York Protocol) has, for over 60 years, defined who is a refugee, and laid down a common approach towards refugees that has been one of the cornerstones for the development of a common asylum system within the EU. Since 1999, the EU has worked towards creating a common European asylum regime in accordance with the Geneva Convention and other applicable international instruments.
The Hague programme was adopted by heads of state and government on 5 November 2004. It puts forward the idea of a common European asylum system (CEAS), in particular, it raises the challenge to establish common procedures and uniform status for those granted asylum or subsidiary protection. The European Commission’s policy plan on asylum (COM(2008) 360 final) was presented in June 2008 which included three pillars to underpin the development of the CEAS:
- bringing more harmonisation to standards of protection by further aligning the EU Member States’ asylum legislation;
- effective and well-supported practical cooperation;
- increased solidarity and sense of responsibility among EU Member States, and between the EU and non-member countries.
With this in mind, in 2009 the European Commission made a proposal to establish a European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The EASO supports EU Member States in their efforts to implement a more consistent and fair asylum policy. It also provides technical and operational support to Member States facing particular pressures (in other words, those Member States receiving large numbers of asylum applicants). The EASO became fully operational in June 2011 and has worked to increase its capacity, activity and influence, working with the European Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In May 2010, the European Commission presented an action plan for unaccompanied minors (COM(2010) 213 final), who are regarded as the most exposed and vulnerable victims of migration. This plan aims to set-up a coordinated approach and commits all EU Member States to grant high standards of reception, protection and integration for unaccompanied minors. As a complement to this action plan, the European Migration Network has produced a comprehensive EU study on reception policies, as well as return and integration arrangements for unaccompanied minors.
A number of directives in this area have been developed. The four main legal instruments on asylum — all of which are currently subject to proposals for replacement or recasting — are:
- the Qualification Directive 2011/95/EU on standards for the qualification of non-EU nationals and stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection;
- the Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection;
- the Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection;
- the Dublin Regulation (EU) 604/2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the EU Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national (national of a non-member country) or stateless person.
The migrant crisis during much of 2015 and 2016 resulted in the European Commission announcing proposals for an emergency assistance instrument within the EU. The plan allocates some EUR 700 million of aid (over a period of three years) to help avert a humanitarian crisis and to be able to deliver more rapidly food, shelter and healthcare, as required by refugees within the EU.
In April 2016, the European Commission adopted a Communication (COM(2016) 197 final) launching the process for a reform of the CEAS. This included options for a fair and sustainable system for allocating asylum applicants among EU Member States, a further harmonisation of asylum procedures and standards to create a level playing field across the EU and thereby reduce pull factors inducing irregular secondary movements, and a strengthening of the mandate of the EASO.
In May 2016, the European Commission presented a first package of reforms, including proposals for establishing a sustainable and fair Dublin system (COM(2016) 270 final), reinforcing the Eurodac system (COM(2016) 272 final) and establishing a European Agency for Asylum (COM(2016) 271 final).
In July 2016, the European Commission put forward a second set of proposals related to the reform of the CEAS, for example to establish a resettlement framework for the EU (COM(2016) 468 final) and a common procedure for international protection (COM(2016) 467 final) as well as a recast of the legislation on the standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (COM(2016) 465 final).
Source data for tables and graphs
- Asylum quarterly report
- Dublin statistics on countries responsible for asylum application
- Statistics on enforcement of immigration legislation
- Residence permits statistics
- Migration and migrant population statistics
- Migrant integration statistics
- Population and population change statistics
- Population statistics at regional level
- Asylum and first time asylum applicants - monthly data (rounded) (tps00189)
- Persons subject of asylum applications pending at the end of the month - monthly data (tps00190)
- Asylum and first time asylum applicants - annual aggregated data (rounded) (tps00191)
- First instance decisions on asylum applications by type of decision - annual aggregated data (tps00192)
- Final decisions on asylum applications - annual data (tps00193)
- Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors - annual data (tps00194)
- Asylum and Dublin statistics (migr_asy)
- Applications (migr_asyapp)
- Decisions on applications and resettlement (migr_asydec)
- ’Dublin’ statistics (migr_dub)
- The EU total is calculated as an aggregation of Member States data. Member State data refer to the number of persons applying for asylum for the first time in that Member State. Persons may however apply for international protection in more than one Member State in a given reference year. Consequently, the EU total may include such multiple applications. Based on an estimate using latest available Dublin statistics, around 6% of asylum applicants in the EU have applied for asylum in more than one EU Member State during the same year.
- For the purpose of this analysis only the top 30 countries of citizenship in terms of the number of applicants for asylum were considered.
- Since reference year 2014, asylum applicants rejected on the basis that another EU Member State accepted responsibility to examine their asylum application under ’Dublin’ Regulation No 604/2013 are not included in data on negative decisions. This has lowered the number of rejections. Consequently, the proportion of positive decisions in the total number of first instance decisions is estimated to have increased by around 5 percentage points.