The number of people claiming asylum in Europe more than doubled last year to over 1.2million, new figures revealed today.
In Finland, some 32,150 first-time applicants registered in 2015–a rise of nearly 10 times, or 822 per cent, on the 3,490 recorded in the previous year.
The statistics released by the EU’s data agency, Eurostat, provided fresh evidence of the unprecedented scale of the influx into the bloc.
It came as the Dutch prime minister said he was cautiously optimistic Turkey would agree to take back non-Syrian refugees as part of a ‘step-by-step’ approach to confronting Europe’s migration crisis.
Meanwhile, the United Nations called for some 400,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey to be relocated around the world to ease the burden on the country.
Eurostat said a record total of 1,255,600 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the 28 member states–more than double the number in 2014.
Syrians accounted for the highest number of claims, doubling compared with the previous year to reach 362,800.
The number of Afghans seeking refuge in the EU nearly quadrupled to 178,200 while applications by Iraqis increased seven-fold to 121,500.
Citizens of the three countries made up more than half of the total first-time applicants registered last year.
Germany has received by far the largest number of asylum seekers, with nearly half of the Syrians who applied for the first time registered in the country.
Finland saw the sharpest increase in first-time applicants, followed by Hungary (323%), Austria (233%) and Belgium (178%).
Eurostat also revealed that at the end of last year there were almost a million applications pending, with almost half being considered in Germany.
The figures emerged as thousands of migrants remained trapped on the Greek-Macedonia border after the latter continued to block their entry, although a small number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees were being allowed across the razor wire to a registration camp near Gevgelija.
Greek police say Macedonian authorities let in 320 people in the 24 hours to 6am on Friday. A few dozen were being admitted later in the day.
Hundreds of brightly-coloured tents cover the muddy ground around an overflowing official camp at Idomeni, stretching almost right up to the border.
Syrian Saswat Estif, 26, has been there for 15 days, waiting patiently as others jumped the queue to enter Macedonia.
He says ‘last night was cold and it rained a lot,’ adding that ‘there’s not enough food.’
In Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was briefing opposition leaders on the immigration crisis that has left more than 32,000 people stranded in Greece.
Meanwhile, The United Nations refugee agency says that 400,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey should be resettled around the world to help ease the burden on the country.
UNHCR Europe bureau director Vincent Cochetel said the refugees could be distributed from Turkey over the next two years and called on Europe, Russia and the United States to do more.
More than two million refugees, most of them Syrians, are currently on Turkish soil.
Cochetel said that only 7,500 refugees were resettled from Turkey last year, including 1,100 Syrians.
His call comes as the European Union seeks to send more migrants arriving in Greece back to Turkey.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was hopeful Turkey would agree to a more effective implementation of a deal under which Ankara agreed to help stem the flow of refugees into Europe.
‘We hope we can reach an agreement with Turkey on taking back economic migrants, the non-Syrian refugees,’ said Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 28-nation bloc.
EU leaders are scrambling to prevent a repeat of the chaotic arrivals last summer, which has pushed Europe’s cherished free-travel Schengen zone to the verge of collapse, raised security concerns and fueled support for nationalists and anti-migrant groups across the bloc.
‘If it works with the non-Syrians we have dealt with 40 to 50 per cent of the entire refugee stream already,’ he said, adding that sealing borders in the Western Balkans would help discourage refugees from undertaking the perilous journey.
In the longer run, EU countries would have to agree to distribute refugees among themselves, he said–a policy opposed by many of the bloc’s members.
‘Europe has to say you go to Lithuania, you to Germany, you to the Czech Republic and so on,’ he said. ‘That resettlement instrument is clearly not yet in sight.’
European Union head Donald Tusk also met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on how to stem the massive flow.
Speaking in Istanbul earlier in the day, Tusk had expressed determination to ‘break the business model of smugglers’ floating the idea that migrants could be shipped back to Turkey from Greece.
On Thursday, analysis of British Home Office figures showed that the number of people claiming asylum in the UK as a proportion of the population has reached its highest level for 11 years.
Claims from 38,900 main applicants and dependants such as children were recorded in 2015–a rise of 20 per cent on 2014.
About one in 30 of those who sought asylum in the EU last year lodged their claim in Britain.