Far fewer Afghans, Pakistanis, and Iranians sought asylum in the European Union in 2017 than in the previous year, part of an overall decrease that brought the total number of applicants well below 1 million, according to a new EU report.*
Тhe European Asylum Support Office said in its 2017 annual report, released on June 18, that the number of people seeking asylum in the 28 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland dropped by nearly half compared with 2016.
While almost 1.3 million applications for international protection were registered in 2016, the total number dropped in 2017 to just under 730,000 -- a 44 percent decrease, the report said. The decrease occurred despite continued pressure on the bloc's external borders.
Provisional data for the first four months of this year also shows that the number of applications has stabilized at a monthly average of less than 50,000, the report said.
Applicants from several countries continued to make up most of the new arrivals in the 30-nation grouping, which is known as the EU+.
Syrians led with 15 percent of the total, followed by Afghans and Iraqis with 7 percent each. Of the total number, Pakistanis represented 4 percent and Iranians 3 percent.
However, the total number of asylum applicants from Afghanistan dropped from more than 190,000 in 2016 to almost 50,000 in 2017. Applications by Pakistanis dropped from more than 50,000 in 2016 to fewer than 32,000 last year.
The number of Iranians seeking asylum in the EU+ decreased to less than 19,000 last year from more than 42,000 in 2016. More than 108,000 Syrians sought asylum in 2017, compared to almost 342,000 during the previous year, the report said.
Throughout 2017, migratory pressure decreased for a second consecutive year, mostly on the eastern and central Mediterranean routes.
However, there was an unprecedented upsurge on the western Mediterranean route, the report said.
Contrary to the general trend, the report says that citizens of Georgia, who, along with nationals of Venezuela, are exempt from visa requirements when traveling to most of the EU, sought international protection more frequently -- from just over 8,800 to 12,000.
That's an increase of more than one-quarter in Georgia's case.
The report’s release comes as the European Union continues to struggle with the issue of migration as people from the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere surge into the bloc, fleeing war and seeking economic stability.
The issue has sharply divided EU member states and helped fuel a rise of populist political movements, many of which are anti-immigrant and xenophobic.
In Germany, the question of how the country should handle migrants has pushed the governing coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel to the brink of collapse.
*CORRECTION: This article has been amended to state that the number of asylum applicants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran decreased in 2017 compared to 2016.