BRUSSELS : Nearly half a million people sought asylum in Europe last year, the most in two decades, with the largest number coming from Syrians fleeing civil war, the European Union said on Monday. In total, 434,160 people sought refuge in the EU’s 28 member states in 2013, according to Eurostat, the EU statistics office. That was an increase of nearly 30 percent from the 335,000 requests in 2012. Russia accounted for the second-largest number of claims, at 41,000, a 10pc share. Afghanistan was third with 26,000 claims. Serbia, Pakistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria and Iraq followed.The European Union rejected 65 percent of the requests and granted refugee status to 15 percent of the asylum seekers. The remaining 20 percent got at least temporary permission to stay in Europe. Rejected applicants had a right to appeal.Some 50,000 applicants from Syria accounted for the largest number, nearly 12 percent of the total. More than 140,000 people have been killed in the three-year-old conflict, which has grown increasingly sectarian as regional powers back either President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shia offshoot Alawite sect, or the mostly Sunni rebels.