BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Nearly 1 million people applied for international protection in the European Union in 2022, according to data published Wednesday, bringing the number of asylum requests to a level not seen since the refugee crisis of 2015-2016.
The EU agency for asylum said 966,000 asylum applications were made in the 27 EU countries as well as in Norway and Switzerland last year, up 50% from 2021. That doesn't include more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees who were granted temporary protection in the EU, a special mechanism activated to avoid collapsing already backlogged asylum systems.
The European agency linked the increase to continuing easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, increasing food insecurity and conflicts in many parts of the world. Though most asylum-seekers enter the EU legally, mainly by plane with travel visas, some also crossed the EU's land and sea borders without permission, mainly through the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean.
After more than a decade of war and economic collapse in their country, Syrians continued to be the top nationality of asylum-seekers in Europe with more than 130,000 applications. They were followed closely by Afghans fleeing the spiraling security, humanitarian and financial troubles that followed the Taliban takeover in August 2021, with 129,000 requests.
Coming in third were applicants from Turkey who doubled in numbers with 55,000 requests. Soaring inflation and "democratic backsliding" were among the factors believed to have caused the increase, the agency said.
In many places, reception centers are overwhelmed, leaving asylum-seekers in the streets.
The recent earthquake that killed nearly 46,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Turkey and Syria has raised fears of a potential surge in irregular border crossings into Greece. Germany offered earlier this month to temporarily ease visa restrictions to some quake survivors while Spain promised to resettle a small group of 100 vulnerable Syrian refugees from Turkey, which is home to 4 million refugees.
Venezuelans, Colombians, Bangladeshis and Georgians applied for asylum in record numbers last year, as did Moroccans, Tunisians and Egyptians. Some 4% of asylum-seekers in 2022 claimed to be unaccompanied minors.
The European agency didn't say which EU countries received the most applications last year. But an internal EU migration report seen by the Associated Press lists Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Italy as the top five.
Asylum authorities issued decisions on more than 600,000 applications last year but they received even more new cases, adding to the existing backlog. Of the applications analyzed, 40% were granted refugee status or subsidiary protection, mostly for Syrian, Belarusian, Eritrean, Yemeni, and Malian applicants, as well as for most of the Ukrainians who chose to apply for asylum instead of temporary protection.