Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido rally in downtown Madrid in February 2019

Brussels (AFP) - Venezuelans and other Latin Americans are filing a surge in requests for asylum in European countries, which are more accustomed to dealing with migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, figures showed Monday.

After citizens from Syria, those from Venezuela were the second-largest group among the 57,000 people who asked for asylum in February in the EU, Switzerland and Norway, according to official figures.

Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-hit country filed more asylum applications than Afghans, Iraqis and Nigerians, the next-biggest groups, the European Asylum Support Office said in a statement.

“The fact that Venezuelans lodged more applications than Afghans represents a noticeable development,” EASO said. “Venezuelan nationals had never lodged such a high number of applications in a single month ever before.”

There were 3,995 Venezuelans who applied in February, up 51 percent from January and nearly triple the figure a year ago, EASO added.

In February, Venezuela saw a worsening of a political, economic and humanitarian crisis resulting from the contested re-election of President Nicola Maduro.

EASO said Syrians, who have been fleeing the eight-year civil war, lodged some 5,393 applications, slightly fewer than in January.

Afghan applications decreased to December 2018 levels, even if the number was up 31 percent from a year ago.

EASO said 1,937 Colombians, 731 Salvadorans, 616 Nicaraguans and 592 Hondurans filed for asylum in February. There were also 351 requests from citizens of Haiti, 323 from Peru, 112 from Cuba and 73 from Guatemala.

Most, it said, are seeking to live in Spain.

EAS0 said the Colombian applications also amounted to a record high, up 47 percent from January and more than triple the number from a year earlier.

Colombia now ranks tenth in the nationalities seeking asylum in Europe.

The number of Nicaraguan applicants also increased sharply, from just nine in February 2018, to 616 in February this year.

In 2015, the European Union faced its worst migration crisis since World War II, with more than one million people entering the bloc from Syria and other countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The EU has sharply cut the migration flow through cooperation with Turkey and Libya, which have been staging areas for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.