Asylum applications in Europe continue to rise even after last year’s major surge

Migrants sleeping on the floor of a building in Brussels
Migrants sleep on the floor of a building used by squatters in Brussels in August 2023.
(Olivier Matthys / Associated Press)
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Asylum applications in the European Union continued to rise in the first half of 2023 following a major increase last year, adding to the pressure on the bloc’s limited hosting capacities and moving the issue up the political agenda in many of its 27 member nations.

The European Union Agency for Asylum said applications in member states, plus Switzerland and Norway, rose 28% in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year. Applications had increased overall in 2022 by 53%.

“Based on current trends, applications could exceed 1 million by the end of 2023” in the region of about 460 million people, the agency said in a statement.


The numbers are in addition to people fleeing the war in Ukraine, who are estimated to number about 4 million and are hosted under temporary protection provisions.

Syrians fleeing unrest and violence at home were the biggest group seeking asylum in the first half of the year, totaling 67,000, an increase of 47% from a year earlier.

The rise in applications is putting greater pressure on hosting facilities, as is evident from the increase in cases awaiting a ruling, which rose by 34%.

Migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are undertaking perilous sea journeys to Europe in unprecedented numbers, sometimes with tragic results.

April 27, 2023

Based on initial decisions, 41% of applicants receive refugee status or another kind of protection. What happens to those who are rejected but do not leave the bloc is an increasingly difficult political issue.

The rising number of asylum seekers and other migrants is an increasingly divisive issue in many European nations, pitting those who say that more should be turned away at borders against those who say the continent should continue to welcome those fleeing persecution.

Last week, the Belgian government said it would no longer provide shelter for single men seeking asylum, arguing that its insufficient hosting capacity should
prioritize families, women and children. The 46-nation Council of Europe, the continent’s most important human rights organization, and aid groups condemned the move as reneging on international commitments.


Earlier this summer, the issue of reining in migration was the final stumbling block that brought down the Dutch government, exposing deep ideological differences within the politically splintered nation.

The EU is equally split on the issue and never fully found a solution after more than 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015, sparking one of the bloc’s biggest crises.