By Olivier Sorgho
(Reuters) - First-time asylum applications from people seeking international protection in European Union countries soared in February, driven largely by Syrians and Afghans, a report from the bloc's statistics agency Eurostat showed on Thursday.
The bloc received 76,505 first-time asylum requests from non-EU citizens applying for international protection, an increase of 41% compared to February 2022, with Syrians topping the ranking, followed by Afghans, Colombians and Venezuelans.
Of those applications, more than three quarters were received by Germany, Spain, France and Italy, while 2,745 were made by unaccompanied minors, Eurostat said.
Both legal and illegal migration rank near the top of many European government agendas, as wars in places like Ukraine and Syria, political persecution and the effects of climate change drive scores of people from their countries of origin.
Eurostat said the number of Ukrainian first-time applicants, which surged from 2,105 in February 2022 to 12,190 in March the same year, has been decreasing to stand at 1,110 in February 2023, also because many of its fleeing citizens benefit from temporary protection.
Russian citizens ranked 8th, making 2,385 applications.
Besides legal asylum requests, Europe faces a potential record number of illegal entry attempts this year. Border agency Frontex earlier in May reported the highest number of unauthorized arrivals since 2016.
(Reporting by Olivier Sorgho; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)