Data extracted on 16 March 2021 (part on asylum applications) and 19 April 2021 (parts on applications by unaccompanied minors and asylum decisions).
Planned article update: mid-March 2022 (parts on asylum applications and first instance decisions) and mid-April 2022 (parts on applications by unaccompanied minors and final decisions).
Asylum applications (non-EU) in the EU Member States, 2008–2020
This article describes recent developments in relation to the number 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.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the related introduction of movement restrictions and border closures, some countries have applied certain administrative measures (e.g. temporary closure of asylum authorities, suspension of asylum interviews, suspension of lodging applications), which resulted in a drop in the number of asylum applications in 2020.
Number of asylum applicants: decrease in 2020
The need to seek international protection is one of the main reasons that forces people to cross borders. As Figure 1 presents, between 2008 and 2012 there was a gradual increase in the number of asylum applications within the EU, after which the number of asylum seekers rose at a more rapid pace, with 400 500 applications in 2013, 594 200 in 2014 and around 1.3 million in 2015. In 2016 the number levelled off at around 1.2 million. In 2017, the number of asylum applications marked a significant decrease of 44.5 % in comparison with 2016, and continued a downward path also in 2018. In 2019, the number of asylum seekers climbed to 698 800, up by 11.7 % compared with 2018.
In 2020, 471 300 asylum applicants applied for international protection in the EU Member States; it was down by 32.6 % compared with 2019. This decrease can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions implemented by the EU Member States.
First-time applicants: 416 600 in 2020
The number of first-time asylum applicants in the EU  in 2020 was 416 600. 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. The number of repeat applicants (persons who lodged more than one application ) in the EU in 2020 was 54 600, representing a 11.6 % of the total number of applicants.
This latest figure for 2020 marked a decrease of 214 700 (or by 34.0 %) first-time applicants across the EU in comparison with the year before (from 631 300 in 2019 to 416 600 in 2020). This was also less (down by 21.5 %) than the level recorded in 2014 (530 600), before the peaks of 2015 and 2016.
Citizenship of first-time applicants: largest numbers from Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Colombia
The top countries of citizenship remained unchanged from 2019, although the number of applications dropped for almost all citizenships.
Syria remains the main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU since 2013. In 2020, the number of Syrian first-time asylum applicants in the EU fell to 63 500 from 74 900 in 2019, while the share of Syrians in the total EU first-time applicants increased from 11.9 % to 15.2 %.
Afghans accounted for 10.6 % of the total number of first-time asylum applicants, Venezuelans for 7.3 %, Colombians for 7.0 %, while Iraqis and Pakistanis for 3.9 % and 3.8 %, respectively.
Among the most numerous groups of citizenship of first-time asylum applicants in the EU in 2020, the largest drop in the number of applications in comparison with 2019 was recorded for citizens of Venezuela (14 500 applications fewer, or -32.3 %), followed by citizens of Georgia (13 100 fewer, or -65.6 %), Albania (12 100 fewer, or -70.8 %), Syria (11 500 fewer, or -15.3 %), Nigeria (10 900 fewer, or -53.4 %), Iraq (10 600 fewer, or -39.6 %), Iran (10 600 fewer, or -62.3 %) and Afghanistan (10 100 fewer, or -18.6 %). 
Main countries of destination: Germany, Spain and France
With 102 500 applicants registered in 2020, Germany accounted for 24.6 % of all first-time applicants in the EU. It was followed by Spain (86 400, or 20.7 %), France (81 800, or 19.6 %), ahead of Greece (37 900, or 9.1 %) and Italy (21 200, or 5.1 %).
Among nine Member States with more than 10 000 first-time asylum seekers in 2020, the number of first-time applicants rose compared with the previous year only in Austria (+17.5 %, or 1 900 more first-time asylum seekers in 2020 than in 2019). In contrast, decreases were recorded in Greece (-49.5 %, or 37 000 fewer), Belgium (-44.1 %, or 10 200 fewer), Sweden (-42.6 %, or 9 800 fewer), France (-40.9 %, or 56 500 fewer), Italy (-39.4 %, or 13 800 fewer), the Netherlands (-39.2 %, or 8 800 fewer), Germany (-28.0 %, or 39 900 fewer) and Spain (-25.0 %, or 28 800 fewer), 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 and the EFTA countries. Syrians lodged the largest number of applications in seven EU Member States, including 36 400 in Germany. Afghans also accounted for the largest number of applicants in seven EU Member States; around one quarter of all Afghan applications were lodged in Greece (11 100) and France (10 000). Some 28 100 Venezuelans and 27 200 Colombians applied for protection in Spain.
Age and gender of first-time applicants
More than three quarters (78.7 %) of the first-time asylum seekers in the EU in 2020 were less than 35 years old (see Figure 4); those in the age range 18–34 years accounted for slightly less than half (47.7 %) of the total number of first-time applicants, while almost one third (31.0 %) of the total number of first-time applicants were minors aged less than 18 years.
This age distribution of first-time 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:
- Germany, Croatia and Sweden reported a higher proportion of asylum applicants less than 18 years old,
- Estonia reported a higher proportion of asylum applicants aged 35-64,
- while in Hungary a higher proportion of applications were observed from asylum seekers less than 18 years old and those aged 35-64.
The distribution of first-time asylum applicants by sex shows that more men (63.8 %) than women (36.1 %) sought asylum; an unknown category accounted for the remaining 0.1 %. Among the youngest age group (0–13 years), males accounted for 51.2 % of the total number of applicants in 2020. Greater differences were observed for asylum applicants who were 14–17 or 18–34 years old, where 71.7 % and 71.8 %, respectively, of first-time applicants were male, with this share dropping back to 59.2 % for the age group 35–64. Across the EU, female applicants outnumbered male applicants in 2020 for asylum applicants aged 65 and over, although this group was relatively small, accounting for just 0.8 % (0.5 % females and 0.3 % males) 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 2020 there were 13 600 applications in the EU from unaccompanied minors; 9.6 % of all minors were unaccompanied (see Figure 6). In the majority of EU Member States, in 2020 the share of minors that was unaccompanied was less than 50 %. Only five Member States recorded higher rates: Portugal (50.0 %), Slovakia (56.3 %), Romania (62.2 %), Bulgaria and Slovenia (71.0 % both).
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.
In 2020, 521 000 first instance decisions on asylum applications were made in the EU Member States and a further 232 800 final decisions following an appeal or review. Decisions made at the first instance resulted in 211 800 persons being granted protection status, while a further 69 200 received protection status in appeal or review.
By far the largest number of decisions (both first and final) was issued in Germany (see Figure 7), accounting for 24.7 % of the total first instance decisions and 43.0 % of the total final decisions in the EU in 2020.
First instance decisions on asylum applications
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 2020, 40.7 % of EU first instance asylum decisions resulted in positive outcomes, that is granting refugee or subsidiary protection status, or an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. For first instance decisions, some 50.1 % of all positive decisions in the EU in 2020 resulted in granting refugee status.
In absolute terms, 106 200 persons were granted refugee status in the EU in 2020 at first instance, 50 300 were given subsidiary protection status, and 55 400 were given authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons.
Among EU Member States, the highest shares of positive first instance decisions out of the total number of first instance decisions in 2020 were recorded in Ireland (74.0 %), followed by Austria (65.1 %), Luxembourg (64.3 %), the Netherlands (63.5 %) and Greece (55.3 %). Conversely, Latvia, Poland, Croatia and Czechia each recorded a share of positive first instance decisions between 19.5 % (Latvia) and 10.8 % (Czechia).
Final decisions taken in appeal
The share of positive final decisions based on appeal or review (29.7 %; see Figure 9) was lower in the EU in 2020 than for first instance decisions (40.7 %; see Figure 8). Around 69 200 people in the EU received positive final decisions based on appeal or review in 2020, of whom 21 600 were granted refugee status, 22 400 were granted subsidiary protection, and a further 25 300 were granted humanitarian status.
Among EU Member States, the highest shares of positive final decisions out of the total number of final decisions in 2020 were recorded in Bulgaria (89.5 %), followed by Austria (61.7 %), Ireland (59.3 %), the Netherlands (46.5 %) and Italy (40.7 %). By contrast, in Portugal, all final decisions were negative.
Pending applications at the end of 2020
Pending applications for international protection are applications that have been made at any time and are still under consideration by the national authorities at the end of the reference period. In other words, they refer to the number of asylum seekers waiting for a decision at the end of the year. This statistic is also intended to measure how the national authorities are facing the workload associated with the arrival of asylum applicants in the Member States.
At the end of 2020, 765 700 applications for international protection in the EU Member States were still under consideration by national authorities. At the end of 2019, this figure was higher (928 900).
Germany had the largest share of applications pending in the EU at the end of 2020 (257 200, or 33.6 % of the EU total), ahead of France (151 200, or 19.7 %), Spain (103 400, or 13.5 %), Greece (62 300, or 8.1 %) and Italy (53 900, or 7.0 %).
For ten EU Member States with more than 10 000 pending applications at the end of 2020, the number of pending applications rose compared with the previous year in Italy (+14.6 %, or 6 900 more pending applications in 2020 than in 2019), Cyprus (+4.2 %, or 800 more) and Belgium (+0.6 %, or 200 more). Decreases were recorded in Greece (-40.9 %, or 43 200 fewer), Sweden (-32.7 %, or 9 000 fewer), Spain (-22.3 %, or 29 600 fewer), Austria (-21.9 %, or 5 900 fewer), Germany (-21.3 %, or 69 600 fewer), the Netherlands (-15.2 %, or 3 100 fewer) and France (-6.0 %, or 9 600 fewer).
Source data for tables and graphs
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 the 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 around 70 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.
EU operational and financial support has been instrumental in helping Member States to address the migration challenge. In particular, the European Commission offers Member States continued financial support under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). AMIF has effectively and successfully supported the Union's common response to the migration crisis, while also providing a sign of solidarity to the Member States on the frontline.
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).
In March 2019, the European Commission reported on the progress made over the past 4 years and set out the measures still required to address immediate and future migration challenges (COM/2019/126 final).
In September 2020, the European Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. This pact provides a comprehensive approach, bringing together policy in the areas of migration, asylum, integration and border management, recognising that the overall effectiveness depends on progress on all fronts. It creates faster, seamless migration processes and stronger governance of migration and borders policies, supported by modern IT systems and more effective agencies. It aims to reduce unsafe and irregular routes and promote sustainable and safe legal pathways for those in need of protection. It reflects the reality that most migrants come to the EU through legal channels, which should be better matched to EU labour market needs.
- Asylum quarterly report
- Statistics on countries responsible for asylum applications (Dublin Regulation)
- Enforcement of immigration legislation statistics
- Residence permits - statistics on first permits issued during the year
- 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.
- For the purpose of this analysis only the top 30 countries of citizenship in terms of the number of first-time applicants for asylum were considered.