Photograph: HINA/ Damir SENÈAR /ds

Last year, almost four times as many unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the European Union as in 2014, according to data published Monday, with around half of them coming from Afghanistan.

The 28-country bloc has experienced its biggest migration surge in decades, with more than 1 million people reaching European shores in 2015. Many sought to reach wealthy northern European countries such as Germany and Sweden.

An overall 88,300 asylum seekers were registered as unaccompanied minors last year. More than nine out of 10 were male, and over half were aged 16 to 17, according to the EU statistics agency Eurostat.

Most of them - 40 per cent - ended up in Sweden, followed by Germany.

The overall figure backs up estimates released earlier this year by the United Nations.

The second-largest group of unaccompanied minors was from Syria, at 16 per cent, Eurostat said. Many of last year's arrivals in Europe were fleeing the war in that country.

The next-largest share of underage asylum seekers travelling alone was from Eritrea (6 per cent), followed by Iraq (5 per cent).

Between 2008 and 2013, around 12,000 unaccompanied minors had sought asylum in the EU each year. That number had almost doubled in 2014 already.

The overall migration flows into Europe have fallen drastically since the EU struck a deal with Ankara in March under which new arrivals to Greece can be sent back to Turkey, a key launchpad for those trying to reach the continent.

Countries along the migration route from Greece to northern Europe have also closed their borders in recent months.

These measures have been criticized by rights activists, in part because of the treatment of vulnerable people such as women and children.

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