2.1.2 Applications for international protection per citizenship of origin

Syrians continued to lodge the most applications for asylum, continuing a trend observed uninterruptedly since 2013. In 2018, some 13 % of all applicants originated from Syria – down from 15 % in 2017 (Fig. 3). Afghanistan was the second main country of origin and Iraq the third, each representing 7 % of all applications in the EU+. These three most common citizenships of origin remained the same as in 2017, but Afghanistan and Iraq switched places in the ranking.  In 2018, more than one quarter of all applicants (27 %) in the EU+ originated from these three countries.

The top 10 citizenships of origin in 2018 also included Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey (4 % each), Venezuela, Albania and Georgia (3 % each). Altogether, the top 10 countries of origin accounted for half of all applications, comparable to the situation in 2017. Some nationalities newly appeared in the top 10 in 2018; this was the case for Turkish, Venezuelan and Georgian citizens. Nationals from Eritrea, Bangladesh and Guinea were among the ten main citizenships of origin in 2017 but not anymore in 2018.

Main countries of origin of applicants in the EU+ in 2018 

Map 1: Half of all applications were lodged by citizens from just 10 countries

Seven years after the beginning of the conflict, in 2018 Syria was the main country of origin of applicants for international protection in the EU+ for the sixth consecutive year. With 85 575 applications, Syrian applicants continued to stand out significantly, lodging almost twice as many applications as any other nationality in 2018 and this despite a decrease by 21 % compared to the previous year.  On a monthly basis, Syrian applications averaged 7 100, with the highest levels recorded in January (8 165) and July (8375) and the lowest in December (4 830).

According to the UNHCR at the end of 2018, there were almost 5.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other northern African countries. Of these, some 184 398 were newly registered during 2018 which amount to more than twice as many persons who lodged applications in the EU+. This comparison between regions puts into context the pressure on asylum systems, but it should be noted that in 2018 the difference was much less than it was in 2017 when six times as many Syrians than applied for asylum in the EU were newly registered in these countries. 110 

Afghanistan became the second main country of origin after Syria, with 47 155 applications lodged in the EU+ in 2018.  This was just slightly lower than in the previous year (- 4 %). Afghanistan represented 7 % of the total, similar to 2017.  Afghanistan was the main country of origin between 2009 and 2012, and later remained constantly among the top three.  In 2018, Afghans lodged more applications in the second half of the year than in the first half; in February, March and April, the monthly totals only just exceeded 3 000, whereas in the second half of the year the highest monthly total was 5 010 in October.

As was the case in 2015 and 2016, in 2018 Iraq was the third main country of origin of applicants in the EU+ in 2018.  With 45 565 applications, Iraq, just like Afghanistan, represented 7 % of the EU+ total.  Compared to the previous year, the number of Iraqi applications decreased by 14 %. The months in 2018 with most Iraqi applications were January, August and October, with more than 4 000 each.

Main countries of origin of applicants in the EU+, 2017 (left) and 2018 (right)

Figure 3: In 2018, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were the main countries of origin of applications lodged in EU+ countries (the shade indicates the quartile) 

Nationals from Pakistan lodged 29 260 applications in 2018. Despite a slight 9 % decrease compared to 2017, it became the fourth main country of origin of applicants. Each year since the beginning of EU data collection in 2008, Pakistani applicants have been among the ten main citizenships of origin. The monthly number of Pakistani applicants was slightly lower in the first six months of the year, especially in February and April with about 2 000 applications each. In July, October and November there was a rise towards almost 3 000 applications. 

Nigeria completed the top five with 26 455 applications in 2018. Nigerian applications decreased by 39 % compared to the previous year, likely following the decrease of arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route (see above p. 37) – the main entry route of Nigerian applicants who mostly lodged their claims in Italy. Nigerian applications continued to decrease gradually throughout the year: the highest monthly number was 2 985 applications in January 2018, and the lowest was 1 560 applications in December 2018.

Only five out of the 20 most common citizenships of asylum applicants in 2018 applied in increasing numbers compared to the previous year (Fig. 4): Iranian, Turkish, Venezuelan, Georgian and Colombian nationals. The increases for these five citizenships were all considerable, ranging between + 36 % and + 122 %. Algerian and Ukrainian applicants have been stable in the past two years.

The highest relative increase was for Colombian applicants, who lodged more than twice as many applications in 2018 as in 2017.  In absolute numbers, Colombians lodged just over 10 000 applications, making them the 17th main citizenship of origin in 2018. The vast majority of Colombians applicants lodged their claim in Spain (84 %). The number of Georgian applicants went up by 67 %, or from 12 000 to 20 000 applications, entering the top ten citizenships of origin.  They applied more in France (35 % of all Georgian applications in the EU+) than before, and slightly less, but still in large numbers, in Germany.  Turkish nationals lodged almost 25 000 applications in 2018.  This was the third consecutive year of rising numbers of Turkish applications. Two fifths of Turkish applicants lodged their claim in Germany, and one fifth in Greece, the latter receiving a larger share than in 2017. Venezuelan applications increased to the same extent as Turkish nationals, reaching 22 530 applications and becoming a top eight citizenship. As was the case for Colombians, the majority of Venezuelans lodged their applications in Spain (86 %). For all these citizenships, applications for international protection in the EU+ in 2018 reached levels unseen since the start of EU-harmonised data collection in 2008. Venezuelan, Colombian, and Georgian nationals are all exempt from a visa requirement when crossing the EU external borders. 111

Applications lodged in the EU+, by top citizenship and year


Figure 4: Just five of the top 20 citizenships in 2018 lodged more applications than in 2017 


Iranians lodged 36 % more applications than in 2017, but lodged fewer claims than in 2015 and 2016. The 2018 increase of Iranian applicants followed the introduction of a visa-free regime for Iranian nationals in Serbia since September 2017. The opening of direct flight connections between Iran and Serbia resulted in increased arrivals of Iranian nationals in Serbia, but also in increased applications in EU+ countries. Serbia abolished the agreement in October 2018, also the month with the highest number of Iranian applications lodged in EU+ countries.112  In the final months of 2018, Iranian applications decreased.  Germany was the main destination country for Iranian applicants in 2018 (46 %), but also the United Kingdom received a large share (16 %). 

The other main citizenships lodged fewer applications in 2018, explaining the overall slight decline.  All top five nationalities lodged fewer applications, with the largest relative decrease for Nigerian applicants (- 37 % or - 15 400 fewer applications) and the largest absolute decrease for Syrian nationals (- 21 % or - 22 465). 

Apart from Nigerian nationals, a range of other sub-Saharan nationalities lodged applications in lower numbers than in 2017.  For instance, Ivoirians lodged 38 % fewer applications, Eritreans 37 % fewer, and Guineans 24 % fewer.  As was the case for Bangladeshi applicants, which also decreased by 27 %, these citizenships all lodged significantly fewer applications in Italy compared to 2017.  As mentioned before, the decrease of arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route has played a pivotal role in this trend.  While applications of these citizenships decreased in Italy in 2018, they did go up in other countries: in Germany for Nigerians and in France for Bangladeshi, Guineans, and Somalis.

In 2018, similar to the previous years, just over two thirds of all applicants were male and a third were female. Close to half of the applicants were aged between 18 and 35 years old, and almost a third were minors.

Demographic profiles for the main citizenships
Bubble size corresponds to number of applications lodged in 2018


Figure 5: Among some citizenships, higher percentages of minors were associated with higher percentages of women (top right) 

The demographic profiles of asylum applicants varied by country of origin. Figure 5 illustrates the demographic profiles of the 25 main citizenships of origin.  Applicants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Algeria, Mali, Morocco, Sudan, Guinea and Palestine were mostly male adults (Fig. 5 – pink). Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean and Russian applicants and applicants with unknown nationality were both more gender balanced and with more minors, possibly indicating a higher proportion of families (Fig. 5 – green). For these citizenships, a higher share of female applicants usually corresponded to a higher proportion of children.

A large share of Afghan and Somali applicants were minors, while about two thirds were male.  In 2018, Syrians had the highest proportion of minors. Further analysis of vulnerable applicants, including unaccompanied minors, can be found in Section 4.10.1.  

Venezuelans, Colombians and Georgians lodged increasing numbers of applications in 2018, but importantly they were also exempt from a visa requirement to enter the Schengen Area. Venezuelan applicants had the highest percentage of females among applicants, suggesting they often applied as family groups (Fig. 5 – blue). Their demographic profile was very similar to Ukrainian, Congolese and Colombian applicants, the latter of which had the most significant relative increase compared to 2017 among the main citizenships of origin.  Nigerian, Ivoirian, Georgian, Iranian, Albanian and Turkish citizenship groups had also relatively large shares of female applicants, but fewer minors. Within this profile, Turkish applicants had the highest share of minors, but not exceeding 30 %.



110 UNHCR, Syria Regional Refugee Response, Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal.
111 Regulation (EU) 2018/1806
112 Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Decision on termination of the validity of the Decision on the abolition of visas for entry into the Republic of Serbia for the nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran, holders of ordinary passports.