The number of people seeking asylum in the European Union in 2017 dropped by almost half compared to the previous year, the EU's asylum agency (EASO) has said.

EASO reported on Thursday (1 February) that 706,913 people sought asylum in the 28 EU nations plus Norway and Switzerland in 2017. That was a 43% decrease on the year before.

It was the second consecutive year numbers fell. More than one million people, mostly Syrian refugees, entered Europe in 2015.

Most asylum applications in 2017 were made by Syrians, as the civil war in their country shows no signs of ending. Last year, more than 98,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Europe - double the number coming from any other country.

About one million Syrians are estimated to have moved to Europe as asylum seekers and refugees since the conflict broke out in 2011, according to data from Eurostat, Europe's statistical agency.

More than half a million Syrians moved to Germany and applied for asylum in this period, making it the fifth-largest displaced Syrian population in the world. On Thursday, Germany's parliament voted to sharply cap the number of refugee family reunions in a bid to curb the influx.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended the policy as a "compromise between generosity and realism".

Since the start of the conflict, more than five million Syrians have moved to neighbouring countries in the Middle East, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

In 2017, over 40,000 claims for asylum in Europe were made by nationals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Forty per cent of all asylum applications in 2017 were successful, according to EASO.

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The number of refugees seeking asylum in Europe has halved Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP