BRUSSELS – Almost half a million people requested asylum in Europe last year, 30 percent more than in 2012 and the highest number yet registered, official figures showed Monday.
“We have in our immediate neighborhood a very worrying situation,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem as data showed a 19 percent rise already in the first five months of 2013.
Syria, where war is raging into a fourth deadly year, followed by Russia and Kosovo, accounted for the biggest increases, said the European Asylum Support Office.
Syrians accounted for around 50,000 of the 435,760 applications registered in 2013.
There has also been a significant rise in the number of Ukrainians applying for asylum, with 2,000 requests registered from March to May this year compared to an average of 100 per month in the last two decades.
The main receiving countries in 2013 were Germany, France, Sweden, Britain and Italy, which is being swamped by boat people — 2,600 were rescued this weekend alone — and took the fifth place from Belgium.
Helping Italy will be at the center of European Union talks in Milan on Tuesday.
With less than 100,000 Syrian refugees currently in Europe compared to the more than 3 million sheltered in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, EU ministers will also discuss resettling those fleeing Syria.
Resettlement provides an alternative to the perilous journeys by boat or container that feed human trafficking networks. It enables the legal transfer of refugees to Europe with the help of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
But only around half of EU countries have agreed to resettle refugees, Malmstroem said.
“I think all 28 countries should,” she said at a news conference. If all European nations joined the resettlement drive, she said “we might perhaps offer shelter to 150,000 Syrians.”