More people applied for asylum in EU member states in January than in all months of 2018 bar one, new figures released by the European Asylum Support Office have revealed. 

Some 58,600 applications for international protection were lodged in the EU's 28 member states, Norway and Switzerland last month. 

That was around 9 per cent higher than the corresponding figure in January 2018 but lower than the 61,563 applications lodged in October. 

January's figure was also 21 per cent higher than December's, but that is in line with seasonal fluctuations, EASO said, with December a traditionally slow month for asylum applications. 

The January figure remains in line with trends, EASO added. 

Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis lodged the most applications and together accounted for 23 per cent of all applicants in the EU+. Applicants from Pakistan and Venezuela represented an additional 9 per cent.

Applications by nationals exempt from visa requirements when travelling to the Schengen area reached 13,646, a peak since the summer of 2015. Applicants from visa-exempt countries accounted for 24% of all applications in the EU+.

In this group, Venezuelans were the most prominent, with the largest increases registered for Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua. There were also notable increases for visa-liberalised countries from the EU neighbourhood, mostly for Albania, Moldova and Georgia.

More than 450,000 cases were awaiting a first-instance decision at the end of January. This was the largest stock for a year. Just over half of all cases had been pending for more than six months. The largest share was for nationals from Syria, followed by Venezuela and Afghanistan.

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