EU asylum seekers fell by half last year

Migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, keep warm around a fire at a makeshift camp set up along the canal Saint-Martin in Paris on March 19, 2018. EU countries registered 650,000 requests for asylum last year, half the number from 2016

EU countries registered 650,000 requests for asylum last year, about half the number from 2016, official figures showed Tuesday, as controversial deals with Turkey and Libya curbed migrant flows.

Syrians, who are fleeing an eight-year civil war, as well as Iraqis and Afghans, whose countries are also gripped by armed conflict, accounted for most of those numbers, Eurostat said.

"In 2017, 650,000 first time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the member states of the European Union. This was just over half the number recorded in 2016," a statement said.

EU states registered 1.2 million first-time asylum applicants in 2016.

It said the number for 2017 was slightly above the 563,000 in 2014 before the migration crisis -- the worst in Europe since World War II -- peaked in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, Syrians accounted for 102,400 first-time asylum applicants, while Iraqis numbered 47,500 and Afghans, 43,600.

Germany, with a little more than 198,000 recorded first-time requests, received 31 percent of all such requests to the EU.

It was followed by Italy with 126,600 requests, or 20 percent of the total, then France with 91,100, or 14 percent, Greece with 57,000, or nine percent, Britain with 33,300 or five percent, and Spain 30,400.

Since 2016, the EU has struck deals with Turkey and Libya to curb the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe.

Under international law, European and other countries must admit those fleeing conflict or persecution but can turn back those seeking job opportunities.