The number of people applying for asylum in the more than doubled in 2015, reaching a record 1.26 million, according to the EU statistics agency.
Syrians accounted for almost a third, with 362,775 people seeking shelter in Europe, followed by Afghans and Iraqis, on Friday.
The data came as Brussels stepped up warnings to member states to take urgent action to resolve the refugee crisis by agreeing on plans to redistribute asylum seekers around .
The European commission also called on countries to lift all internal border controls by November, while stepping up protection of Europe’s external frontiers.
The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, echoed apocalyptic warnings from other European leaders when he argued the EU had to save its passport-free Schengen travel zone in order to preserve decades of European integration.
“All that we have achieved in the last 60 years is at stake and we have to do what we can to uphold and safeguard these achievements,” he said.
The action plan he published, on Wednesday, calls on member states to lift border controls as quickly as possible and with “a clear target date of November 2016”.
Since September, eight countries have reintroduced border checks, aimed at preventing large numbers of refugees and migrants entering. Avramopoulos said the actions were in line with EU rules, which allow open borders to be suspended in an emergency. But he urged countries to work towards reopening them as soon as possible, while increasing controls on Europe’s external frontiers.
“We cannot have free movement if we cannot manage our external border effectively,” he said.
The latest Brussels plan is based on the assumption that Turkey will take decisive steps to reduce the number of people making the perilous crossing across the Aegean Sea.
EU leaders are meeting the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, at an emergency summit in Brussels on Monday, where they hope to get a promise of decisive action to reduce numbers, especially targeted at people who do not qualify for EU asylum. The European council president, Donald Tusk, who on Thursday , is meeting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Friday, to pave the way for the meeting.
A clampdown on migrants would have a big impact on Afghans, as many European countries say people fleeing the war-torn country are no longer eligible for asylum, unlike Syrians and Iraqis. As the Eurostat data shows, Afghans were the second-largest group of people claiming asylum in 2015, with 178,200 people seeking protection. Iraqis were the next largest group, with 121,500 asylum claims, more than seven times the total for 2014.
Smaller numbers of Kosovans, Albanians, Pakistanis, Eritreans and Nigerians also sought asylum in Europe.
More than a third of all applicants in 2015 went to Germany, followed by Hungary and Sweden. Relative to population size, Hungary took the highest number of first-time applicants, 17,699 per million inhabitants, compared with Sweden, which took 16,016. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has since and vowed he will not take a quota of refugees assigned to the country under an EU relocation scheme.
Avramopoulos maintains that all countries must respect the EU law the quotas are based on. “They must understand that they have to comply with the decisions that we have taken altogether,” he said.
But there is rising recognition that a compulsory relocation scheme may not work in the short term. Earlier this week, Turkey’s ambassador to Brussels, Selim Yenel, said there was growing understanding a relocation scheme would have to be voluntary. , he added that the EU had to “get its act in order”.
He compared “panic” and “chaos” in the EU with Turkey, which is housing more than 2.5 million refugees. “A unity of 500 million can’t handle 1 million, while we have more than 2.5 million. That is really surprising to me.”