Eurostat - Asylum statistics

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Data from August 2012. For more info and most recent data: visit official Eurostat website; Statistics Explained.
Figure 1: Asylum applications
(non-EU-27) in the EU-27 Member States, 2001-2011 (1)
(1 000) - Source: Eurostat
Table 1: Countries of origin of
(non-EU-27) asylum seekers in the EU-27 Member States, 2010 and 2011 (1) - Source: Eurostat
Table 2: Number of
(non-EU-27) asylum applicants in the EU and EFTA Member States and their age distribution, 2011 - Source: Eurostat
Figure 2: Share of male
(non-EU-27) asylum applicants in the EU-27, by age group and status of minors, 2011
(%) - Source: Eurostat
Table 3: Five main citizenships of
(non-EU-27) asylum applicants, 2011
(number, rounded figures) - Source: Eurostat
Table 4: First instance decisions on
(non-EU-27) asylum applications, 2011
(number, rounded figures) - Source: Eurostat
Table 5: Final decisions on
(non-EU-27) asylum applications, 2011
(number, rounded figures) - Source: Eurostat

This article describes recent developments in relation to numbers of asylum applicants and decisions on asylum applications in the European Union. 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.

Most of the statistics contained in this article were collected within the regulatory framework of a Regulation on migration and international protection statistics (EC) 862/2007.

Main statistical findings

Asylum applicants

Having peaked in 1992 (670 000 applications in the EU-15) and again in 2001 (424 200 applications in the EU-27), the number of asylum applications within the EU-27 fell in successive years to just below 200 000 applications by 2006. From this relative low point there was a gradual increase in the number of applications and by 2011 the number of asylum seekers in the EU-27 reached just over 300 000 (see Figure 1).

This latest figure marked a considerable increase in relation to the year before, with an additional 42 875 applicants, in part due to a considerably higher number of applicants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia and Nigeria (see Table 1). As in the two previous years, Afghani and Russian citizens topped the ranking of asylum seekers in the EU-27 in 2011; just over 28 000 applicants for asylum in the EU were Afghanis (nearly 10 % of the total number of applicants), while Russians accounted for just over 6 % of the total. Pakistanis were the third largest group of asylum seekers in the EU-27 in 2011, recording a 70 % increase compared with 2010. The largest increases in applicants were recorded for individuals from several African countries that were characterised by civil unrest and political change during 2011 – for example, Tunisia, Libya or the Ivory Coast.

The number of asylum applicants and their relative importance (for example, their number in relation to the total population of the country where the application is lodged) varies considerably between EU Member States. The highest numbers of asylum seekers in 2011 were reported by France and Germany – each of these receiving more than 50 000 applicants (see Table 2). This was considerably higher than in any of the other EU Member State; Italy, Belgium, Sweden and the United Kingdom followed with between 34 000 and 26 000 applicants. The total number of persons seeking asylum in these six Member States accounted for more than three quarters (77 %) of the EU-27 total in 2011.

The vast majority (nearly 80 %) of asylum seekers in the EU-27 in 2011 were aged less than 35 (see Table 2); those aged 18–34 accounted for more than half (55 %) of the total number of applicants, while minors aged less than 18 accounted for almost one in four applicants.

This age distribution for asylum applicants was common in the vast majority of the EU Member States, with the largest share of applicants usually being those aged 18–34. There were two exceptions to this pattern: Luxembourg and Poland both reported a higher proportion of asylum applicants aged less than 18.

While in 2010 there were just under 11 000 applications in the EU-27 from unaccompanied minors, their number increased in 2011 and stood at just over 12 225 (excluding Portugal). An unaccompanied minor is a person below the age of 18 who arrives on the territory of an EU Member State unaccompanied by an adult responsible for them or a minor who is left unaccompanied after having entered the territory of an EU Member State.

The distribution by sex shows that asylum applicants were more often men than women. Across the EU-27 as a whole, the gender distribution was most balanced for asylum applicants aged less than 14, where boys accounted for 52 % of the total number of applications in 2011. There was a greater degree of gender inequality for asylum applicants aged 14–17 or 18–34, where almost three quarters of applicants were male. The gender difference was even more apparent when considering the group of unaccompanied minors, as more than four out of every five unaccompanied minors was male. Female applicants outnumbered male applicants for accompanied minors and asylum seekers aged 65 and over (although this latter group is relatively small, accounting for just 0.8 % of the total number of applications in 2011).

A number of factors play a role in determining where an asylum seeker will lodge his/her application. These include historical ties between countries of origin and destination (former colonies for instance), a certain knowledge of the language used in the host country, the presence of established ethnic communities, and the economic situation of the destination country. These pull factors largely overlap with the drivers of other non-asylum migration flows. However, other factors such as the perceived likelihood that the destination country will grant a protection status or the benefits connected to a protection status are specific to asylum seekers. Table 3 provides an overview of the five largest groups of asylum applicants (by citizenship) in each of the EU Member State.

As detailed above, Afghanistan was the main country of origin for asylum seekers in the EU-27 in 2011. Afghanis accounted for the highest number of applicants in nine of the EU Member States, including Germany and Sweden, with almost 8 000 and more than 4 000 applicants respectively.

Russia was the second largest country of origin for asylum seekers in the EU-27 in 2011 and nearly half of all Russian applicants lodged their applications in France or Poland. Indeed, these were the only EU Member States to report that their highest proportion of asylum applicants were Russian citizens (4 480 and 4 320 respectively).

Decisions on asylum applications

In 2011, a quarter of EU-27 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. This share was somewhat lower (21 %) for final decisions (based on appeal or review).

For first instance decisions, close to half (49 %) of all positive decisions in the EU-27 in 2011 resulted in grants of refugee status, while for final decisions the share was notably higher, at just over two thirds (67 %). In absolute numbers, a total of 42 650 persons were granted refugee status in the EU-27 in 2011 (first instance and final decisions), 26 005 subsidiary protection status, and 10 890 authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. There is a wide diversity in the handling of asylum applications across the EU Member States: this may be linked to differences in the citizenship of applicants in each EU Member State, and may also reflect asylum and migration policies that are applied in each country.

In absolute terms, the highest number of positive asylum decisions (first instance and final decisions) in 2011 was recorded in the United Kingdom (14 355), followed by Germany (13 045), France (10 740) and Sweden (10 625). Altogether, these four EU Member States accounted for 61 % of the total number of positive decisions issued in EU. Though refugee and subsidiary protection status are defined by EU law, humanitarian reasons are specific to the national legislation, which explains why the latter is not applicable in certain EU Member States.

Data sources and availability

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. 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 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 applications) 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 been made available at difference 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 decision 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, that all normal routes of appeal have been exhausted.


The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees (as amended by the 1967 New York Protocol) has for almost 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. A number of directives in this area have been developed, the four main legal instruments on asylum including:

  • the Reception Conditions Directive 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers;
  • the Asylum Procedures Directive 2005/85/EC on minimum standards on procedures in EU Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status;
  • the Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted;
  • the Dublin Regulation (EC) 343/2003 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the EU Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the EU Member States by a third-country national.

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 adopted on 17 February 2006 a Communication on ‘strengthened practical cooperation’ (COM(2006) 67 final), presenting a vision of how EU Member States could further cooperate on asylum. 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). This proposal was formally approved during the first half of 2010 when a decision was taken by the Council and the European Parliament to locate the headquarters of this new office in Valletta, Malta. The EASO supports EU Member States in their efforts to implement a more consistent and fair asylum policy, for example, by helping to identify good practices, organising training at the European level, and improving access to accurate information on countries of origin. It also provides technical and operational support to EU Member States facing particular pressures (in other words, those EU Member States receiving large numbers of asylum applicants). The EASO became fully operational in June 2011.

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.

In December 2011, the European Commission adopted a Communication on ‘Enhanced intra-EU solidarity in the field of asylum’ (COM(2011) 835 final). This provided proposals to reinforce practical, technical and financial cooperation, moving towards a better allocation of responsibilities and improved governance of the asylum system in the EU, namely through:

  • introducing an evaluation and early warning mechanism to detect and address emerging problems;
  • making the supporting role of the EASO more effective;
  • increasing the amount of funds available and making these more flexible, taking into account significant fluctuations in the number of asylum seekers;
  • developing and encouraging the relocation of beneficiaries of international protection between different EU Member States.

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