OXFORD/LONDON, 21 July 2015
Fleeing war or persecution for the safety of Europe? Choose your country wisely.

Asylum seekers have not truly made it until their applications are approved, giving them the right to remain as refugees or under some other form of protection. A refusal can mean removal back to the country they fled, or a life living in the shadows as an “illegal” migrant. As the map below shows, percentage rates of asylum approval across the European Union in 2014 varied dramatically.

Mouse over a country for details. Source: Eurostat

In theory, all EU states are bound by the Common European Asylum System. And yet, more than a decade after the agreement was made, countries still have drastically different systems and standards for judging who deserves asylum and who doesn’t.

The EU’s average approval rate for asylum applications in 2014 was 45 percent, but Sweden approved 77 percent of applications and Hungary just 9 percent. Greece only recognised 15 percent of applicants while Bulgaria recognised 94 percent (but offers little opportunity to make a living). See the approval rates for all member states below.

No surprise then that few asylum seekers want to remain in Hungary or Greece and risk being finger-printed before they reach their preferred destination (once finger-printed, under Europe’s Dublin Regulation, they run the risk of being returned to the member state where they first arrived).

Member states also have very different ideas about which nationalities are more deserving of protection. 

With the exception of Hungary, Greece and Italy, most countries approve nearly all applications from Syrians, as the chart above shows.

The same isn't true for Afghans, who registered the second largest number of asylum applications in Europe in 2014 behind Syrians. While in Italy and France they have a very high chance of being allowed to stay, in Romania and Bulgaria around four out of five are refused.

Eritreans also fare quite well in most member states but they should avoid France where only 15 percent of their applications were approved in 2014. No wonder so many Eritreans are in Calais trying to stow away on trucks and ferries bound for the UK, where 92 percent of Eritrean applications were approved in 2014.

If you're Eritrean, forget about going to France


The numbers highlight the extent that asylum in Europe has become a lottery - if you're Eritrean, forget about going to France; if you're from Afghanistan, Italy is your best option; and even Syrians would do well to give Hungary a wide berth.

Data from Eurostat and UNHCR