For the first time, Syrians were the biggest group seeking asylum in industrialised countries last year, as the impact of fighting in the country spread beyond the turbulent region, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
A record number of asylum requests by Syrians and Russians in 2013 raised the total number received in 44 rich countries to its highest since 2001, the agency said. The total of 612,700 claims rose 28 per cent from the year before.
Syrian refugees are expected to continue fleeing the country’s civil war, now in its fourth year. Some 2.6 million have now been driven into five neighbouring countries, one million in Lebanon alone, the agency said.
In the industrialised world, 56,400 Syrians requested refugee status in 2013, more than double the number the previous year, the UNHCR said in its report Asylum Trends 2013.
“There is clear evidence in these numbers of how the Syria crisis in particular is affecting countries and regions of the world far removed from the Middle East,” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.
Syrians who managed to lodge asylum requests in the industrial world enjoyed high rates of approval, 95 percent, Volker Turk, the UNHCR director of international protection, told a news briefing.
Russian nationals, mostly believed to be from the breakaway region of Chechnya, were the second-largest group of asylum seekers in 2013, with a record 39,800, a jump of 76 percent on the previous year, the agency said.
But many Russian applicants appeared to be migrants joining family in Europe, mainly Poland and Germany, rather than people fleeing violence and persecution, Turk said. He noted a lower rate of approval for their applications.
Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, the top country of origin for the two previous years, were the third-largest group in 2013 at 38,700, with Turkey their prime destination.
For the first time in eight years, the United States was not the biggest recipient of asylum seekers among the 44 countries. It fell to second behind Germany, despite a rise of 25 per cent from the year before, to 88,400 claims, the agency said. Chinese nationals were the largest group of asylum seekers in both the United States and Canada.