UNICEF says nearly half a million refugee children who applied for asylum in Europe last year remain in limbo as the European Union prepares for critical talks on rules governing applications from people seeking protection.

U.N. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that more than 400,000 children who applied for asylum in Europe between January and November 2015 remain in legal limbo.

UNICEF is calling on the EU to give greater priority to the interests and rights of children as Europe faces the biggest refugee migration crisis since World War II, Dujarric said.

"For Europe's common asylum system to be humane, fair and efficient, the protection of children must be a central priority," Noala Skinner, Director of the UNICEF Brussels Office said in a statement.