August 2, 2016

Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015

1. Asylum seeker origins: A rapid rise for most countries

In 2015, a record 1.3 million individuals applied for asylum in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. This was more than a twofold increase from 2014, when nearly 600,000 people applied for asylum. This dramatic rise in asylum applications followed a relatively stable period of about roughly 200,000 applicants each year between 2005 and 2010 and around 300,000 annual applicants in 2011 and 2012.

The leading country of citizenship for Europe’s asylum applicants in 2015 was Syria, which accounted for 378,000 asylum seekers, or 29% of all applicants. Second was Afghanistan, with 193,000 asylum seekers in 2015. Well over half (53%) of all asylum seekers in 2015 held citizenship from one of these countries or Iraq.

A mixed group of source countries represent the remaining leading points of origin for asylum seekers in Europe during 2015. Kosovo and Albania were each the country of origin of about 5% of asylum seekers. In fact, Europe received about the same number of asylum applications from Kosovo and Albania combined as from Iraq in 2015. Slightly fewer than 50,000 asylum seekers had Pakistani or Eritrean citizenship in 2015. Asylum applicants from Iran, several sub-Saharan countries like Nigeria, Somalia and Gambia, as well as European countries such as Ukraine, Serbia and Russia rounded out the leading countries of citizenship for Europe’s asylum seekers.

The EU, Norway and Switzerland saw large increases of asylum seekers in 2014 from some of the largest countries of origin in 2013 and again for the same countries between 2014 and 2015, when the latest wave of asylum seekers reached Europe. For several leading source countries, the volume of asylum applications doubled in 2014 (from 2013) and doubled again for many countries in 2015 (from 2014).

Syria had the greatest annual asylum applicant increase between 2013 and 2015, with about 49,000 asylum seekers in 2013, 125,000 in 2014 and 378,000 in 2015.

But it was Ukraine, Iraq and Afghanistan that saw the greatest annual percentage increases between 2013 and 2015 among the top 15 source countries of asylum seekers in 2015. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of asylum seekers from Ukraine increased nearly 24-fold, while Iraq increased nearly 14-fold. Meanwhile, the number of Afghan applicants increased nearly nine fold between 2013 and 2015, and Syria’s number of annual asylum seekers increased nearly eightfold during the same period.