By Claire Davenport / Reuters
BRUSSELS: Asylum seekers from Arab Spring countries and West African nations suffering civil strife surged into Europe last year at a time when European politicians are talking about re-tightening border controls.
Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said on Friday asylum applications from Tunisians rose by 92.5 percent to 6,330 last year and from Libyans by 76 percent to 2,900.
Those that fled Syria increased by 50 percent, even though fighting there only accelerated at the end of the year.
Asylum applications from Nigeria, scene of furious fuel price protests and a violent Islamic insurgency, almost doubled from 6,700 in 2010 to 11,500 in 2011.
Arrivals from Ivory Coast, which suffered a civil war after disputed elections, surged to 5,300 from 1,500 in 2010.
The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said that in total almost two million people have left their homes over the last year as a result of the impact of the Arab Spring across North Africa and the Middle East.
Europe’s largest group of migrants for a third consecutive year was from Afghanistan.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, fighting for re-election, vowed to pull France out of the open border Schengen zone unless there was progress in fortifying Europe’s frontiers.
Austria and Germany have threatened to reinstate border controls in the Schengen zone if countries such as Greece do not stem an increasing tide of migrants making their way across the Aegean Sea from Turkey.
In September last year, the European Commission proposed legislation to let governments temporarily reinstate border controls — if they can show a neighboring country has repeatedly failed to tackle illegal immigration.