Asylum Trends – 2020 Overview
© EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries. The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the European Union.1
Source: Eurostat, from 2010 to 2020.
Based on Eurostat migr_asyappctza, migr_asypenctzm, migr_asydcfsta and migr_asydcfina as of 28 April 2021.
The figures presented in this visualisation are provisional and may be subject to update or revision from the Member States. Data available on the Eurostat website are rounded to the nearest five. As such, aggregates calculated on the basis of rounded figures may slightly deviate from the actual total. The recognition rate ("RR") is calculated as the share of decisions granting refugee status, subsidiary protection or, where applicable, an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. Please be advised that a ‘0’ may not necessarily indicate a real zero value but could also represent a value of ‘1’ or ‘2’. It is important to note that Eurostat Technical Guidelines have been regularly amended. For more information on these changes which affect data comparability over time please refer to the following reference metadata migr_asyapp_esms and migr_asydec_esms.
Applications for international protection in the EU+
Approximately 485 000 applications for international protection were lodged in EU+ countries in 2020,2 a sharp 32 % drop compared to the number of applications in 2019. The decline, which resulted in the lowest number of yearly applications since 2013, can be attributed to COVID-19 restrictions that were implemented in EU+ and third countries, limiting movements across borders and within countries. In 2020, the EU’s external borders had the lowest number of illegal crossings since 2013, according to preliminary data collected by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).3
In March 2020, the number of applications lodged in EU+ countries suddenly plummeted (- 43 % from February) as lockdowns, travel bans and health measures were put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In April 2020, the number of applications reached the lowest level (- 85 % from February), with just 9 700 applications lodged across all EU+ countries. As confinement measures were gradually lifted across countries, the pace of applications resumed in June 2020, and from July onwards, remained quite stable for the rest of the year – between 40 000 and 45 000 applications per month. Nonetheless, these figures were clearly below pre-COVID-19 levels.
National asylum authorities were compelled to swiftly adjust to the new circumstances. Some offices suspended registrations for a short period during the first wave of the pandemic to re-organise processes and the working environment. Others did not officially suspend the process but limited registration to basic information and proceeded with the lodging of the application after a period of quarantine or testing. In an effort to continue to provide services, EU+ countries put in place health-sensitive measures and digitalised many steps of the asylum procedure. Technology was used, for example, for online registration of applications, remote interviewing and the provision of information and interpretation services, notification of decisions and information on the status of a case.4
About 14 200 applications for international protection were lodged by unaccompanied minors in EU+ countries, representing 3 % of all applications in 2020. Compared to 2019, the absolute number of unaccompanied minors remained relatively stable (- 3 %). However, given the strong overall decrease in asylum applications, this resulted in an increase in the share of unaccompanied minors from 2019 by one percentage point.
The receiving countries
Almost two-thirds (63 %) of all asylum applications in 2020 were lodged in just three countries: Germany (122 000), France (93 000) and Spain (89 000). These were followed at some distance by Greece (41 000) and Italy (27 000). However, almost all countries received fewer applications than in 2019. The largest absolute decreases were in France (- 58 000, - 38 %), Germany (- 44 000, - 26 %), Greece (- 37 000, - 48 %) and Spain (- 29 000, - 25 %). Applications roughly halved not only in Greece but also in Cyprus and Denmark. Apart from France, declines by about two-fifths also occurred in Belgium, Czechia, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
In contrast, countries located along the Balkan routes bucked the trend and received more applications in 2020 than in the previous year. The increase in Romania (+ 3 565, + 138 %) was the largest amongst EU+ countries in both absolute and relative terms. This was followed by Bulgaria (+ 1 375, + 64 %) and Austria (+ 1 320, + 10 %) in absolute terms. Croatia and Slovakia also received more applications compared to 2019, particularly in the second half of the year.
Cyprus, Malta, Greece and Luxembourg received the most applications relative to their population size. In Cyprus, about 840 applications were lodged for every 100 000 inhabitants. The EU+ total was approximately 105 applications per 100 000 inhabitants. The countries which received the fewest asylum applications per capita were Hungary, Estonia and Slovakia (1, 4 and 5 applications per 100 000 inhabitants respectively). Regarding applications by unaccompanied minors, more than one-half were lodged in four countries: Greece (20 % of the total), Germany (16 %), Austria (10 %) and Belgium (9 %).
The impact of COVID-19-related measures on asylum applications was unevenly distributed across EU+ countries. In countries where the asylum procedure was mostly suspended during the first wave of the pandemic, there was a notable drop in the number of asylum applications, for example by 99 % in Spain and 97 % in France between March and April 2020. Germany, which kept its asylum procedure open, had just a 29 % decline in the number of applications received during this period.
Applicants’ countries of origin
In 2020, nationals of Syria lodged the most applications for international protection (70 000), which nonetheless was a 12 % decrease from 2019. This nationality accounted for one in seven applications lodged in EU+ countries. With 50 000 applications, citizens of Afghanistan were the second top citizenship seeking international protection in Europe, followed by Venezuelans (31 000), Colombians (30 000) and Iraqis (20 000). Together, the five top nationalities accounted for over two-fifths of all applications in EU+ countries.
The top countries of origin were unchanged from 2019, although nearly all lodged fewer applications in 2020: nationals of Venezuela and Iraq lodged far fewer applications, while the decline was less striking for Afghans and Colombians. There were many applications also by citizens of Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Somalia and Bangladesh (in descending order), but substantially fewer than in the previous year. Some of the most notable declines were for applicants from Albania, Georgia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. In fact, among the citizenships lodging the most applications in 2020, applications only increased for Belarusians (1 335, + 15 %), Brazilians (1 675, + 3 %), Comorians (1 975, + 14 %) and Cubans (2 185, + 7 %).5
There is a pattern of some citizenships lodging applications mainly in a specific EU+ country. For example, Colombians and Venezuelans, as well as most other Latin Americans, lodged the vast majority of their applications in Spain. Similarly, more than half of all Syrians and Iraqis applied in Germany. Nationals from some francophone African countries mainly applied in France, and Iranians in Germany.
As in 2019, applicants from Western Balkan countries and some former Soviet republics had especially high shares of repeated applications in the same receiving country, including nationals of Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Tajikistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina (in descending order). Between 30 % and 43 % of the applications lodged by citizens from these countries were repeated.
Decisions at first instance
Despite immense challenges associated with the COVID-19 situation, asylum authorities in EU+ countries issued about 534 500 first instance decisions in 2020, which was nearly as many as in 2019. Moreover, due to the drop in asylum applications, decisions issued outnumbered applications lodged in EU+ countries for the first time since 2017. In two-thirds of EU+ countries, there was a decline in decisions issued compared to a year earlier. But Greece and Spain ramped up efforts and boosted decision-making for some nationalities during the reduced inflow of applicants. These efforts helped to maintain the overall EU+ outflow of decisions at the same level as in 2019.
Processing first instance asylum applications was directly impacted by COVID-19 measures, such as physical distancing, the closure of facilities, remote working and health protocols. Every aspect of this step of the asylum procedure was affected, including personal interviews, face-to-face activities, working arrangements, time limits, the notification of decisions, case load management, training and quality assessments. From May 2020 onwards, face-to-face activities gradually resumed with new practices in place. In general, asylum authorities introduced flexible working arrangements, such as teleworking and staff rotation, to ensure the continuation of services. Some countries focused on already-pending cases to reduce existing backlogs.
In 2020, just five EU+ countries issued more than four-fifths of all first instance decisions: Germany (24 %), Spain (23 %), France (16 %), Greece (12 %) and Italy (8 %). Nonetheless, France, Germany and in particular Italy issued fewer decisions compared to 2019. Conversely, Greece and Spain more or less doubled their first instance decision-making. Almost one-quarter of all decisions taken on applications for international protection in Europe were issued by Spain for Colombian and Venezuelan applicants and by Greece for Afghans and Syrians.
Most first instance decisions were issued to nationals of Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan and Colombia (in descending order), receiving two in every five decisions in EU+ countries in 2020. In addition, these nationalities received more decisions in 2020 than in 2019. The most notable increase in both absolute and relative terms was for Colombian applicants, who received almost seven times as many decisions in 2020 as in the previous year. Conversely, the number of decisions issued to nationals of Albania and Georgia dropped by one-half, and considerably fewer decisions were also issued to Nigerians.
Decisions at second or higher instances
While the volume of decisions on applications at first instance remained relatively stable in 2020, the number of decisions issued at second or higher instances6 decreased by almost one-fifth: from around 300 000 in 2018 and 2019 to about 237 000 in 2020.7 This decline occurred both in the number of positive decisions (from around 90 000 in 2019 to about 70 000 in 2020, representing a 23 % decrease) and the number of rejections (209 000 in 2019 and 167 000 in 2020, a 20 % decrease).
Like all other phases of the asylum procedure, second or higher instance procedures were also impacted in 2020 by COVID-19 restrictions. At the beginning of the pandemic, courts and tribunals either closed to the public and worked remotely, including holding remote hearings, or they remained open but suspended most in-person hearings, usually holding only urgent hearings (for example, detention cases).
For first instance decisions on asylum applications, the EU+ recognition rate was 42 % in 2020: out of 534 500 decisions issued, 224 000 were positive such that the applicant was granted either refugee status, subsidiary protection or humanitarian status. In line with Eurostat reporting, asylum applicants granted an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons under national law concerning international protection are counted as positive decisions. Most of the positive decisions at first instance granted refugee status (113 000 or one-half of all positive decisions), followed by humanitarian status (59 000 or 27 %) and subsidiary protection (52 000 or 23 %).
The recognition rate for all types of protection in 2020 was similar to 2019 and 2018 (39 % in both years). The share of decisions granting refugee status has been roughly stable over this time, but the share of subsidiary protection has steadily declined since 2016, from 37 % to the current 23 %. In contrast, the share of positive decisions granting humanitarian status has steadily increased from 8 % in 2016 to 27 % in 2020. In some receiving countries, there were notable changes in first instance recognition rates over time. Substantial increases occurred in Austria and especially in the Netherlands. In contrast, recognition rates declined substantially in Denmark, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.
In 2020, applicants from Venezuela had the highest recognition rate at first instance in EU+ countries at 95 %. This was followed by Syrians (85 %) and Eritreans (84 %). High recognition rates were also reported for nationals of Somalia (61 %), Afghanistan (59 %) and Turkey (49 %). In contrast, for the majority of the nationalities that received the most first instance decisions, recognition rates did not exceed 22 %. For example, nationals of Albania, Colombia and Georgia only had recognition rates ranging from 3 % to 5 %. Among the top 20 nationalities, one-half or more of positive decisions granted subsidiary protection in the case of Afghans, Albanians and Ukrainians. In the particular case of Venezuelans, almost all positive decisions granted humanitarian status.
The 237 000 decisions issued at second or higher instances in EU+ countries included 70 000 positive decisions, resulting in a recognition rate of 29 %, which was stable compared to 2019. This rate was substantially lower than the recognition rate for first instance decisions (42 %), and the difference in 2020 exceeded the corresponding differences in 2019 and 2018. The reason for this difference was that refugee status was granted less often at second or higher instances than at first instance, while the shares of subsidiary protection and humanitarian status were almost the same.
Pending cases awaiting a final decision
Given that there were more decisions issued than applications lodged in 2020, the stock of pending cases dropped in EU+ countries. Approximately 773 600 asylum applications were awaiting a decision at the end of 2020, representing an 18 % decrease compared to 2019. Nonetheless, pending cases were still higher than the pre-crisis level in 2014. The backlog was reduced by nearly one-fifth at both first and higher instances. More than one-half of the cases awaiting a decision, over 412 600, were pending at first instance.
One-third of all cases were pending in Germany (33 %). This was slightly less than in 2019, partially reflecting the fact that Germany reduced its stock of pending cases by one-fifth compared to the end of 2019 (- 69 600). France (- 9 600 from December 2019) and Spain (- 29 600) also reduced their backlogs during 2020. However, France had an increase of pending cases at first instance. Furthermore, a significant decrease of the general stock of pending cases – in fact, the second-largest drop among EU+ countries – took place in Greece (- 43 200). Decreases were also seen in Sweden (- 9 000), Austria (- 5 900) and Switzerland (- 4 600), among others. In contrast, increases took place in Italy (+ 6 900), Romania (+ 1 300), Bulgaria (+ 1 100), Malta (+ 900) and Cyprus (+ 800).
Although nationals of Afghanistan lodged fewer applications in EU+ countries in 2020, they still had the most cases awaiting a decision at the end of 2020, representing 12 % of all pending cases in EU+ countries. Nevertheless, the stock of pending cases for Afghan nationals dropped by one-fifth compared to 2019 (- 25 000). Nationals of Syria (9 % of all pending cases in EU+ countries) and Iraq (6 %) also had fewer cases awaiting a decision at the end of 2020 than a year earlier (- 17 300 and - 17 700 respectively). Other nationalities with large annual case load reductions were Venezuelan (- 15 300), Colombian (- 10 000), Pakistani (- 9 700), Iranian (- 6 700), Albanian (- 6 000) and Nigerian (- 5 900). In general, almost all nationalities with at least 10 000 cases pending at all instances had fewer cases pending at the end of 2020 than a year earlier.
Asylum applicants: all persons having submitted an application for international protection or having been included in such application as a family member during the reference period. 'Application for international protection' means an application for international protection as defined in Art.2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU, i.e. a request made by a third-country national or a stateless person for protection from a Member State, who can be understood to seek refugee status or subsidiary protection status, and who does not explicitly request another kind of protection, outside the scope of this Directive, that can be applied for separately.
EU+ refers to the 27 European Union Member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
First instance decisions: decisions (positive and negative) considering applications for international protection as well as the grants of authorisations to stay for humanitarian reasons, including decisions under priority and accelerated procedures taken by administrative or judicial bodies in Member States.
Decisions at second or higher instances include decisions taken by administrative or judicial bodies in appeal or in review and which are no longer subject to remedy. They are referred to by Eurostat as final decisions since they comprise what is effectively a final decision in the vast majority of all cases: i.e. that all normal routes of appeal have been exhausted.
Stock of pending cases: all applications for international protection under consideration by the responsible national authority at the end of the reference period. It includes the number of persons with pending applications at all instances of the administrative and/or judicial procedure.
The EU+ recognition rate includes EU-regulated forms of protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection) as well as national protection forms (humanitarian reasons). It is calculated by dividing the number of positive first instance decisions (granting refugee status, subsidiary protection or national forms of protection) by the total number of decisions issued.
This page is produced by EASO’s Data Analysis and Research Sector (DARS) on the basis of validated data submitted to Eurostat (according to Regulation (EC) No 862/2007).
Date of release: 29 June 2021
 The designation "Kosovo" is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence".
 EU+ refers to the EU27 plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Figures are based on Eurostat data as of 28 April 2021.
 Preliminary data offered by Frontex refer to the number of detections of irregular border-crossing at the external borders of the EU. The same person may attempt to cross the border several times in different locations at the external border, and thus will be counted more than once. European Border and Coast Guard Agency (2021, January 8), Irregular migration into EU last year lowest since 2013 due to COVID-19. https://frontex.europa.eu/media-centre/news/news-release/irregular-migration-into-eu-last-year-lowest-since-2013-due-to-covid-19-j34zp2
 European Asylum Support Office (2020, December 7), COVID-19 emergency measures in asylum and reception systems: Issue No. 3. https://easo.europa.eu/sites/default/files/publications/COVID-19%20emergency%20measures%20in%20asylum%20and%20reception%20systems-December-2020_new.pdf
 Only citizenships with at least 1 000 applications in 2020 are considered.
 Data on decisions taken on asylum applications which have been appealed are not disaggregated by the type of decision. Thus, it is not possible to deduce in how many cases a positive final decision reversed a negative decision. As a result, the analysis of decisions issued on applications at second or higher instances should be interpreted with caution.
 Data on second or higher instance decisions were not available for Iceland for 2020.