More than 1.2 million people filed first-time asylum applications in the European Union last year, a record for the 28-country bloc, its statistics agency said Friday.

Europe has been contending with the most significant migration flows it has seen in decades, with many of the people on the move fleeing wars in the Middle East. The first-time asylum applications recorded in 2015 were more than double those seen in the previous year.

Syrians topped the list of first-time asylum seekers in 2015 at 362,800, followed by 178,200 Afghans and 121,500 Iraqis, the EU statistics agency Eurostat said. All three countries have been ravaged by conflicts.

The other asylum seekers came from places such as Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Iran, Eurostat said. People from Kosovo and Albania are usually considered to be economic migrants and are thus unlikely to be granted asylum.

More than a third of the first-time asylum seekers applied for protection in Germany, amounting to 441,800. More than 150,000 applicants were also registered in Hungary and Sweden, while Austria and Italy each recorded more than 80,000.

Compared with population size, however, the highest number of first-time applicants was in Hungary, followed by Sweden, Austria, Finland and Germany. The lowest numbers were seen in Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, Portugal and Lithuania.

On average, there were 2,470 first-time asylum applicants per million inhabitants in EU member states last year, Eurostat said. More than 920,000 applications were still pending by the end of 2015.

The migration flows have shown little sign of abating this year.

Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis continue to make up most of the migrant flows headed towards Europe, the director of the UN Refugee Agency's Europe bureau told journalists in Brussels on Friday.

"I'm getting a bit tired to hear about irregular migrants when we are talking about Syrians fleeing from Aleppo," Vincent Cochetel said, adding that Syrians represent 48 per cent of the people arriving in Greece, followed by Afghans (26 per cent) and Iraqis (17 per cent).

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