European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a State of the Union Address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. Stung by the swift collapse of the Afghan army and the chaotic U.S.-led evacuation through Kabul airport, the European Union on Wednesday unveiled new plans to develop its own defense capacities to try to ensure that it has more freedom to act in future crises. AP
The number of asylum requests by Afghans in the EU rose by 20 percent in July, even before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, official figures showed Thursday.
Overall 50,000 people applied for international protection across the bloc's 27 nations plus non-members Norway and Switzerland, the highest single-month figure since the outbreak of Covid-19, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) said.
"Applications by Afghans increased for the fifth consecutive month, to about 7,300 (up 21 percent from June)," a statement said.
"This came relatively close to the number of applications by Syrians (8,500, +14%). The gap between Afghans and Syrians has been shrinking almost steadily since December 2020."
There is expected to be a spike in applications from Afghans for asylum after thousands of people were flown out to the EU in a desperate airlift after the Taliban's capture of Kabul in mid-August.
The EU is desperate to stave off a mass flow of refugees from Afghanistan similar to the migrant crisis sparked by the Syrian war that saw over 1 million people come to the bloc in 2015.
Brussels has pledged increased humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and support for neighbouring countries to host any arrivals.
The July asylum figures also saw a "peak of applications by Iraqis", with the number hitting 2,300, the EASO said.
That was down to arrivals crossing over from Belarus in a flow the EU says has been orchestrated by Minsk to hit back at the bloc over sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.
The EU last month reported a decline in the number of Iraqis arriving in Lithuanian after Baghdad agreed to halt flights to Belarus.