(Brussels) “Asylum applications in the EU decreased for the third consecutive year in 2018, returning to pre-crisis levels”. There has been an increase in applications in the first five months of 2019, but “it remains too early to be indicative of a significant long-term shift in recent trends”. This is according to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO, based in Valletta) which released its 2018 Annual Report today. In 2018, 664,480 applications for international protection were lodged, that is, 10% less than in the previous year. There are, however, “stark” variations “between Member States and between individual citizenships”. The “recognition rate in first instance” was “39%, decreasing by 7 percentage points over the previous year”. Syria (13%), Afghanistan and Iraq (7% each) were the three main countries of origin of applicants. The top 10 citizenships of origin also included Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey (4% each), Venezuela, Albania and Georgia (3% each). “In 2018, close to one fifth of all applications were lodged by nationals from countries exempt from visa requirements to enter the Schengen Area, including Venezuelans, Colombians, Albanians and Georgians”.