EU agency says asylum numbers up, could strain facilities

BRUSSELS (AP) — The number of people applying for international protection in Europe has reached highs not seen since well over 1 million people sought refuge on the continent seven years ago and could place strain on national asylum systems, a European Union agency said Wednesday.

About 84,500 people applied for asylum in August in the 27 EU member countries plus Norway and Switzerland, while around 255,000 others, most of them from Ukraine, also sought some form of temporary protection, the EU Asylum Agency said. It’s a 16% increase over the month of July.

Almost one third of the applicants were from Afghanistan and Syria. Turkish, Indian and Moroccan nationals also sought refuge in increasing numbers, the agency said. Many people from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tunisia and Georgia applied too.

The agency said that the numbers for August amount to about half of those recorded in late 2015, where monthly totals were up to 170,000. It said many of those who apply are entering Europe from the western Balkans region.

The mass arrival of Syrian war refugees, mostly into the Greek islands, in 2015 overwhelmed European reception facilities and sparked one of the EU’s biggest political crises. Nations bickered over who should take responsibility for the refugees and whether other countries should help.

The problem has not been resolved, and an overhaul to the EU’s asylum system is making little headway.

The agency said that asylum applications lodged by Syrians and Afghans increased in August by around 30% compared with the month of July. Afghan nationals have lodged about 127,000 applications since the Taliban took control in August 2021 following the chaotic U.S.-led exit of international forces.

The number of children traveling alone who applied for international protection in Europe also rose sharply in August to almost 4,700, up by 28% from July, agains mostly from Afghanistan and Syria, the agency said.

The third-largest group of nationals seeking protection came from Turkey, which is a candidate for EU membership and has received billions of euros in European funds over the last seven years to help stop Syrian nationals from entering Europe. Around 4,600 Turks applied for asylum in August, the most since at least 2014.

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