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New UN report shows wars in Syria and Iraq drive highest asylum numbers in 22 years

26 March 2015 – The wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as armed conflicts, human rights violations and deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions elsewhere, has pushed the number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries to the highest level since 1992 at the beginning of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to a United Nations report released today.

"Our response has to be just as generous now as it was then – providing access to asylum, resettlement opportunities and other forms of protection for the people fleeing these terrible conflicts," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, putting the figures in historical context.

"Asylum Trends 2014," released today at the UN refugee agency's headquarters in Geneva, puts the estimated number of new asylum applications lodged in industrialized countries throughout the year at 866,000 – a 45 per cent increase from 2013, when 596,600 claims were registered.

According to the High Commissioner's office (UNHCR), which emerged in the wake of the Second World War to help Europeans displaced by that conflict, the number of people applying for refugee status in industrialized countries is just one element in the global picture of forced displacement from conflict and persecution.

Worldwide, by the end of 2013, 51.2 million individuals were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations. Of these, some 16.7 million people were refugees and 33.3 million others were displaced in their own country.

UNHCR's Global Trends 2014 report, due in June 2015, will provide a complete picture of global displacement last year.

Today's report – based on data received from 44 governments in Europe, North America and parts of the Asia-Pacific – showed the 2014 asylum figure is the highest since 1992, at the beginning of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"In the 1990s, the Balkan wars created hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers," Mr. Guterres said. "Many of them found refuge in industrialized countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere."

"Today, the surge in armed conflicts around the world presents us with similar challenges, in particular the dramatic situation in Syria," he said.

Syrians were by far the largest group among those seeking asylum in 2014, with almost 150,000 applications – one in every five asylum claims in the industrialized world.

Iraqis accounted for 68,700 applications, almost double the number in 2013, the report showed.

"Afghans were the third largest group, with almost 60,000 applications, followed by citizens of Serbia (and Kosovo) and Eritreans," UNHCR noted.

The industrialized country receiving the largest number of asylum-seekers in 2014 was Germany, with over 173,000 applications, according to the report. Syrians made up a quarter of all asylum applications in Germany.

The United States received an estimated 121,200 asylum claims, mostly from Mexico and countries in Central America.

Turkey, which by the end of 2014 hosted over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, received 87,800 new asylum applications in 2014, mainly from Iraqis.

Sweden ranked fourth among the 44 industrialized countries, with 75,100 applications, mainly from Syrians and Eritreans, and Italy registered 63,700 new applications in 2014, the highest on record. Asylum-seekers in Italy came mainly from Mali, Nigeria and Gambia.

The top five receiving countries (Germany, US, Turkey, Sweden, and Italy) accounted for 60 per cent of all new asylum claims.

UNHCR noted that Russia, which was not included in this report for methodological reasons, received some 265,400 applications for temporary asylum and 5,800 applications for refugee status from Ukrainians during 2014.

It also noted that the number of Ukrainians seeking asylum in the 44 countries included in the report went up from 1,400 in 2013 to 15,700 in 2014.

The report reveals other disparities, UNHCR said, as when a country's population size is taken into account, for example. Relative to the size of its population, Sweden is the country with the largest number of asylum-seekers (24.4 asylum-seekers per 1,000 inhabitants on average, during the last five years), followed by Malta, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Montenegro.

While most industrialized countries saw increases in the number of asylum applicants during last year, some countries registered a decrease. Australia's numbers went down 24 per cent from 11,700 in 2013 to less than 9,000 in 2014.

UNHCR today deals with 42.9 million so-called "people of concern." They include 23.9 million internally displaced people, 11.7 million refugees, 1.8 million returnees, 3.5 million stateless people, more than 1.2 asylum-seekers, and 836,000 other persons of concern.

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