Asylum seeker applications in Europe double to record 1.2 million

Syrians accounted for almost a third of the total figure, with 362,775 seeking shelter across the continent

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The Independent Online

The number of people applying for asylum in the European Union more than doubled in 2015, reaching a record-high of 1.26 million.

Europe’s refugee crisis has been a large factor in the increase, and EU statistics agency Eurostat estimates that a total of 1,255,600 first time asylum application were made in 2015, up from 562,680 made in 2014.

Syrians accounted for almost a third of the total figure, with 362,775 seeking shelter in Europe, double the number that came to Europe in 2014. The second most common nationality of applicants was Afghans, whose numbers quadrupled to 178 230, followed by 121 535 Iraqis.

The highest number of first-time applicants were registered in Germany, with the country taking in 441,800 people, or 35 per cent of the applicants. Next came Hungary (174,400), Sweden (156 100), Austria (85,500), Italy (83,200) and France (70,600).

The country which saw the largest increase from the previous year in asylum applicants was Finland, with 822 per cent more applications in 2015.The UK took in 38,370 asylum seekers, 3.1 per cent of the total.

Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, said: "We are running out of time, and strong leadership and vision are urgently needed from European leaders to deal with what is, in our view, a situation that can still be managed if properly addressed.

"This is as much a crisis of European solidarity as it is a refugee crisis."

 The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 129,455 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in the first nine weeks of this year, with 418 people dying in the process.

A spokesperson said: "The numbers still fall far short of 2015's total, when over one million seaborne arrivals were recorded. But with 10 months left, it now appears likely that last year's total will be surpassed, possibly before the end of the summer."

More than 10,000 are now currently stuck in northern Greece on the border with Macedonia, due to the re-imposition internal border controls. Thousands more migrants are arriving in Greece every day.

Eight countries have reintroduced border checks since September, in an attempt to dissuade refugees and migrants entering. The Schengen Agreement, the EU’s passport-free movement plan, has come under strain as a consequence of the crisis.