Latest asylum trends – 2020 overview
The visualisation below provides an overview of the key indicators regarding the situation of international protection in the EU+ in the past 25 months. The size of the different circles in the countries of origin is proportional to the volume of applications lodged in EU+ countries, the colour of the circle reflects the recognition rate at first instance (blue - high, red - low). The shade of the country reflects the stock of pending cases at the end of the selected year. By clicking on a circle, the evolution of these key indicators for the citizenship selected is displayed in the lower panel.
By clicking on a circle, the evolution of these key indicators for the citizenship selected is displayed in the lower panel. Note that the visualization below includes data for the United Kingdom (30 EU+ countries) until the end of 2019, whereas it excludes data for the United Kingdom as of January 2020 (29 EU+ countries).
Source: EASO EPS, December 2018 – December 2020.
Asylum applications include all persons who have lodged or have been included in an application for international protection as a family member in the reporting country during the reporting month.
EU+ refers to the 27 European Union Member States, plus Norway and Switzerland. However, until the end of 2019 data for the EU+ include also the United Kingdom.
First instance decisions include all persons covered by decisions issued on granting EU-regulated international protection status (refugee or subsidiary protection) following a first time or repeated application for international protection in the first instance determination process.
Stock of pending cases includes all cases for which an asylum application has been lodged and are under consideration by the national authority responsible for the first instance determination of the application for international protection (until the first instance decision has been issued) at the end of the reference period (i.e. last day of the reference month). It refers to the “stock” of applications for which decisions at first instance are still pending.
The EU+ recognition rate includes EU-regulated forms of protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection) and excludes national protection forms (humanitarian reasons). It is calculated by dividing the number of positive first instance decisions (granting refugee status or subsidiary protection) by the total number of decisions issued.
- In 2020, some 461 300 applications for international protection were lodged in EU+ countries, down by 31 % compared to 2019.
- The decrease in asylum applications reflects the COVID-19 pandemic and related emergency measures, such as movement restrictions.
- Applications strongly fluctuated throughout the year: most were lodged in January and February, and the fewest between March and June.
- Syrians, Afghans and Venezuelans lodged the most applications for asylum, together accounting for just under a third of all applications.
- Almost all citizenships lodged fewer applications, this was particularly the case for Albanians, Georgians, and Iranians.
- The decrease was more pronounced for visa-exempt compared to visa-obliged citizenships.
- Some 4 % of all asylum applications in 2020 were lodged by self-claimed unaccompanied minors, with a certain concentration within the last quarter of the year.
- Nationals from the Maghreb were increasingly detected illegally crossing the EU external border, but many did not apply for asylum.
- Asylum authorities in EU+ countries roughly maintained the same level of first instance decisions as in 2019, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For the first time since 2017, more first instance decisions were issued than applications lodged. Therefore, the backlog was somewhat reduced: between November 2019 and November 2020, pending cases fell by more than 74 000 at first instance, and by around 160 000 at all instances altogether.
- At the end of 2020, about 413 000 cases were pending at first instance. Most had been awaiting a decision for more than six months.
- The EU+ recognition rate remained stable at 32 %.
- Syrians (84 %), Eritreans (80 %) and Yemenis (75 %) had the highest recognition rates, whereas Colombians (2 %) and Venezuelans (3 %) reached very low levels.
- Recognition rates often differed strongly across receiving countries, especially for Afghans.
Far fewer applications for asylum lodged in the EU+ due to COVID-19 and emergency measures
In 2020, 461 300 applications for international protection were lodged in the EU+, down by 31 % from 2019. This can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the disease. The number of applications showed strong fluctuations throughout the year: while in January and February 2020 applications were higher than in the same months of the previous year, comparatively low numbers were lodged between March and June. In April and May, restrictions tended to be most severe and correspondingly applications were especially low, at less than 20 % compared to the same period in 2019. In July 2020, applications started to resume and remained somewhat stable for the rest of the year, between some 39 000 and 43 000 per month.
The top countries of origin remained unchanged from 2019, although applications decreased for almost all citizenships. Syrians lodged the most applications for asylum (64 540, down by 9 % from 2019). They accounted for 14 % of all applications in the EU+, an increase from the previous year. With 48 578 applications, Afghans became the second most frequent citizenship, followed by Venezuelans (30 643), Colombians (29 438) and Iraqis (18 167). Venezuelans and Iraqis lodged far fewer applications, while there was a smaller decline for Afghans and Colombians. Together, the five top nationalities lodged over two fifths of all asylum applications in the EU+.
Pakistanis, Turks, Nigerians, Bangladeshis and Somalis also lodged many applications, but fewer than in the previous year. This was especially the case for Nigerians (13 031, - 44 %), and Turks (15 834, - 38 %). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was further highlighted by substantial decreases for most other citizenships, including applicants from Albania (6 498, - 66 %), Georgia (8 508, - 61 %), and Iran (7 721, - 60 %), which had been among the dozen most frequent countries of origin in 2019.
Among citizenships lodging the most applications in 2020 (>1000), only those from Comoros (1 996, + 53 %), Belarus (1 319, + 28 %), Cuba (2 170, + 8 %), and Brazil (1 622, + 5 %) lodged more applications than in 2019. Applicants from visa-exempt countries seemed to be especially affected by the travel restrictions implemented due to the pandemic. In 2020, their applications decreased by 36 % from the previous year, whereas applications by citizens from visa-obliged countries only fell by 30 %.
Rising share of applications by unaccompanied minors
In 2020, 4 % of all applications in the EU+ were lodged by self-claimed unaccompanied minors (UAMs), an increase of one percentage point from the previous year. The share of UAMs was particularly high in the last quarter of the year, when it reached 5 %. Importantly, Afghans constituted a noteworthy 37 % of all UAMs, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2019, followed by Syrians (15 %) and Pakistanis (7 %). Among all Afghan and Egyptian applicants, more than 10 % were UAMs, the highest shares of all countries of origin.
Another notable development in 2020 was twice as many North Africans, namely Moroccans, Tunisians, and Algerians detected illegally crossing the EU external border. However, this was not reflected in an increase of asylum applications. In fact, applications by the aforementioned nationalities were significantly below the number of detected illegal border-crossings, with the discrepancy for Tunisians being especially notable: 13 000 Tunisians were detected illegally crossing the EU external border (making them the third most frequently detected nationality), but they only lodged 2 918 applications for asylum (35th position in this context).
More than one in 10 applications was repeated, i.e. lodged by a person who had previously received a negative decision in the same EU+ country. As in 2019, repeated applications were most prominent among nationals of Western Balkan countries and some former Soviet republics, including Serbia, North Macedonia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, and Armenia, all of which had a share of more than 30 % of repeated applications. Notable increases in the share of repeated applications occurred for Nigerian (27 %, + 9 percentage points), Haitian (20 %, + 11 p.p.), Sri Lankan (29 %, + 10 p.p.), as well as Ethiopian nationals (29 %, + 12 p.p.).
Focus on relevant countries of origin of applicants
Syria – In 2020, Syrians lodged some 64 540 applications, a 9 % decrease from the previous year and clearly fewer than in both 2018 and 2017. Over half of all Syrian applications were concentrated in a single receiving country. As with other citizenships in 2020, Syrian monthly applications fluctuated strongly throughout the year. However, by September 2020 Syrians were once more lodging applications at pre COVID-19 levels, with a further increase in December. Despite some backlog reduction, Syrians still had some 40 929 cases pending at the end of December 2020, the second highest number of pending cases at first instance. This is most likely related to the high number of first instance decisions issued to Syrian nationals in 2020 (77 259), on par with the previous two years, but clearly exceeding applications. A quarter of all decisions were issued in March and April, when applications were at their lowest level. The recognition rate for Syrians in 2020 was stable at 84 %.
Afghanistan – For the third year in a row, Afghanistan was the second most important country of origin. In 2020, Afghans lodged 48 578 applications in the EU+, a decrease of 16 % from 2019, but more than in 2018. After reaching a historical low in April, monthly applications by Afghans increased to about half of pre-COVID-19 levels in June and continued to rise until October 2020, when they reached 5 500, before decreasing again somewhat towards the end of the year. Two thirds of all Afghan applications were concentrated in three EU+ countries. After recording a 60 % increase between December 2018 and 2019, pending cases for Afghans at the end of December 2020 (46 997) were at the same level as in the previous year. The number of decisions issued to Afghans (42 756) in 2020 was 26 % higher than in 2019, but still below the number of applications lodged. Hence, the stability in the number of pending cases was underpinned by a significant volume of cases closed in Dublin procedures, for which Afghans were the top nationality. The recognition rate for Afghans was 53 % in 2020, an increase of 5 % from 2019.
Venezuela – In 2020 Venezuelans lodged far fewer applications than in 2019, down by a significant 32 % to 30 643. Still, apart from 2019, the number was higher than in any other recorded year. Some 93 % of Venezuelans applied in a single receiving country. Their applications were heavily impacted by COVID-19, as a third of them were lodged during the first two months of the year, which were unaffected by the pandemic, exceeding monthly applications for nearly all of 2019. Venezuelans lodged dramatically fewer applications in April and May to just over 200 applications in the two months combined, before increasing again in June and reaching a high of 3 777 in July. After that, they declined again steadily until the end of the year. On the other hand, Venezuelans received the second highest number of first instance decisions (49 046) after Syrians in 2020, an increase of 27 % from the previous year, which explains the decrease in the number of pending cases. However, the recognition rate for Venezuelans in 2020 was very low, with only 3 % of applicants receiving some form of EU-regulated protection, a decrease from 5 % in the previous year. However, it must be noted that the EU+ recognition rate does not include nationally regulated permits to stay for humanitarian reasons (i.e. humanitarian protection), which are granted automatically to Venezuelans in some EU+ countries.
Colombia – In 2020, Colombia ranked fourth among the citizenships lodging the highest number of asylum applications in the EU+, with some 29 438 applications, almost on par with 2019 (32 310). The vast majority of Colombian applications were lodged in a single EU+ country. As with Venezuelans, more than a third of all applications in 2020 were recorded in the first two months of the year. At the end of 2020, 16 916 cases were pending at first instance, almost half that of December 2019. This can be explained by the large increase in the number of decisions issued to Colombian nationals, which rose almost seven-fold. Colombians had a very low recognition rate at 2 %, a decrease of 5 percentage points from the previous year. Unlike Venezuelans, Colombians are not automatically granted humanitarian protection in the country where they tend to apply the most.
Georgia – In 2020, Georgians lodged far fewer applications – just 8 508, down by 60% compared to 2019 and back to levels not seen since 2016. More than a third of all Georgian applications were lodged in January and February 2020. Applications declined to below 200 per month in April and May, before resuming over the next few months until they reached about half of pre-COVID-19 levels in August and remained at that level until the end of the year (with the exception of December, when fewer applications were recorded for many nationalities due to the holiday season). The number of pending cases for Georgian applicants also declined, to just 7 441 at the end of December 2020, a 20 % decrease from the previous year. This can be explained by more case closures than applications lodged in 2020; 9 327 of the former were first instance decisions. Recognition rates for Georgian nationals in 2020 were low at 4 %, similar to 2019.
First instance decisions remained roughly stable despite the pandemic
EU+ countries issued about 521 000 decisions at first instance in 2020.2 While this level was the lowest since 2014, it was still close to 2019 (- 4 %). This means that asylum authorities in EU+ countries roughly maintained their output also in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though comparatively few decisions were issued from April to June 2020.
For the four most frequent citizenships among asylum applicants – Syrian, Afghan, Venezuelan and Colombian – more decisions were issued in 2020 than in 2019. In the case of Colombians, more than six times as many first instance decisions were issued in 2020 as in 2019 (42 448 vs 6 315). The four most frequent citizenships together accounted for 41 % of all first instance decisions in 2020.
The number of decisions also increased strongly for applicants from other Central and South American countries, including Peru (+ 166 %), Nicaragua (+ 201 %) and Honduras (+ 307 %). In contrast, first instance decisions roughly halved for a number of African countries of origin, including Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and The Gambia but also for some Balkan countries (Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia). Other substantial decreases occurred for Bangladeshis, Eritreans, Guineans, Iraqis and Pakistanis.
Continuing decline of recognition rates for Syrians, Venezuelans and Colombians
During COVID-19 lockdowns, some asylum offices were temporarily closed, and different cases were processed while safety measures such as online interviews were implemented and tested.3 This resulted in some strong fluctuations in the monthly EU+ recognition rate4 over the course of the year, but eventually the annual recognition rate at first instance was essentially the same as in 2019 (32 %). More than two thirds of the positive decisions in 2020 granted refugee status, and the remainder granted subsidiary protection. After substantial monthly fluctuations, these proportions also turned out very similar to 2019.
Among the most frequent citizenships of applicants,5 EU+ recognition rates in 2020 were the highest for Syrians (84 %), Eritreans (80 %) and Yemenis (75 %). Although the recognition rate for Syrians changed very little from 2019 (- 1 p.p.), it was still the lowest value since 20116 after a steady decline in the past few years. A decline also occurred for Yemenis. Other high recognition rate citizenships included Somalis (60 %), Chinese (59 %), stateless applicants (56 %), Afghans (53 %) and Palestinians (51 %). Recognition rates continued rising over the last three years for Afghans, Nicaraguans, Malians and Ivorians.
In contrast, recognition rates did not exceed 5 % for over a quarter of the most frequent citizenships in 2020. This group included applicants from visa-exempt countries in South America (Colombians, Peruvians and Venezuelans), the Eastern Partnership (Armenians, Georgians and Moldovans), and the Western Balkans (citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia). This group further included Algerians, Bangladeshis, Ghanaians, Indians, Tunisians, Uzbeks and Vietnamese. After falling for several years, recognition rates for Colombians (2 %) and Venezuelans (3 %) reached very low levels in 2020. Yet, it should be noted that Venezuelans are often granted humanitarian protection, which is not covered by EU-regulated types of protection.
Some analyses suggest that the outcome of an asylum application partially depends on where it has been lodged. For example, in 2020 recognition rates for Syrians ranged from 35 % in some EU+ countries (issuing >200 decisions) to 100 % in others. Such ranges were even wider for Afghans (from 1 % to 99 %) and Venezuelans (from 0 % to 96 %).7 For Colombians, the range was more limited but still significant (from 0 % to 28 %). Among other citizenships receiving many first instance decisions, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Somalis and Turks all received recognition rates that varied by more than 50 percentage points between EU+ countries. It has been suggested that different recognition rates may encourage secondary movements or asylum shopping but evidence for such claims is inconsistent. However, different decision making among EU+ countries does illustrate the need for consistent implementation of the Common European Asylum System.
Some reduction of the backlog
Based on latest available data (November 2020), about 855 000 cases were pending at all instances8 in the EU+. This level was significantly lower than in November 2019, when it exceeded one million. The decrease was largely driven by a decline in cases pending at first instance – those that are still being processed with asylum authorities, not including those that are open in appeal or review (second and higher instances). Cases pending at first instance fell by more than 74 000 between November 2019 and November 2020, driven by the fact that first instance decisions exceeded applications in 2020, for the first time since 2017.
At the end of 2020, about 412 600 cases were still pending at first instance. Nearly two thirds of these cases had been pending for more than six months, a higher proportion than at the end of 2019. By far the most cases pending at first instance concerned Afghans (46 997) and Syrians (40 929), who together accounted for 21 % of all cases awaiting a first instance decision, compared with 19 % in 2019. Pakistanis followed at a distance with almost 20 000 cases, and around 17 000 cases were pending at first instance for Venezuelans and Colombians each. For all these citizenships except Afghans, fewer cases were awaiting a first instance decision at the end of 2020 than at the end of 2019, with decreases being especially large for Venezuelans (- 61 %) and Colombians (- 46 %).
 Frontex, Irregular migration into EU last year lowest since 2013 due to COVID-19, 8 January 2021; Frontex, Migratory map, accessed 10 February 2021.
 First instance decisions include all persons covered by decisions issued on granting EU-regulated international protection status (refugee or subsidiary protection) following a first time or repeated application for international protection in the first instance determination process. Data on first instance decisions were available for 29 EU+ countries throughout 2020.
 EASO, COVID-19 emergency measures in asylum and reception systems, Issue 3, 7 December 2020.
 The EU+ recognition rate includes EU-regulated forms of protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection) and excludes national protection forms (humanitarian reasons). It is calculated by dividing the number of positive first instance decisions (granting refugee status or subsidiary protection) by the total number of decisions issued.
 Citizenships with more than 1 000 decisions issued in 2020.
 For estimates prior to 2015, Eurostat data are used.
 However, the range for Venezuelans might shrink after accounting for national forms of protection, which were granted notably in Spain.
 Data on pending cases at all instances in November 2020 were available for 27 EU+ countries. Data on pending cases at first instance in December 2020 were available for all 29 EU+ countries.