The number of Syrians seeking asylum in developed countries more than doubled last year from 2012 and was six times higher than at the start of its bloody civil war in 2011, the UN said on Friday.
Syrian asylum claims in 44 industrialised countries soared to 56,400 in 2013 from 25,200 such applications a year earlier and 8,500 in 2011, the UN’s refugee agency said in a report.
“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,” UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Syrians made up a full 9.4 percent of the total 612,700 people who sought asylum last year in 38 European countries, as well as eight countries in North America, East Asia and the Pacific, according to the agency’s annual report on global asylum trends.
Afghanistan, which in recent years has produced the most asylum seekers, was bumped to third place in 2013, with Russia taking a surprising second, after coming in sixth last year.
UNHCR did not have a breakdown of which parts of Russian society the 38,699 people seeking asylum abroad — mainly in Germany and Poland — came from.
But “there are indications that they are mostly Chechens,” Volker Turk, the UNHCR’s head of international protection, told reporters.
The overall number of asylum seekers to industrialised countries last year was 28 percent higher than in 2012 and marked the highest total of any year since 2001, Turk said.
Numbers were meanwhile far higher during the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, exceeding 800,000 in 1992.
– ‘Shadow side of humanity’ –
Turk stressed that the 2013 hike in asylum applications were “a manifestation of the shadow side of humanity (and) of what is actually going wrong in the world.”
Among the 10 countries producing the most asylum seekers, six are currently experiencing violence or conflict: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan.
While the conflicts are mostly happening far from the borders of the developed countries, “we see these ripple effects like waves on the ocean,” Turk said.
Germany was the single largest recipient of asylum applications last year, tallying 109,600 in total, 11,900 of them from Syria.
France counted 60,100, while Sweden received 54,300, including 16,300 Syrians.
The United States and Canada together received 98,800 asylum applications, mainly from Chinese citizens. Just over 2,000 were from Syrians.
The doubling of Syrian asylum seekers in industrialised countries may be staggering, but the numbers pale in comparison to the more than 2.6 million Syrian refugees camped out in neighbouring countries, with nearly one million Syrians in tiny Lebanon alone.
More than three years into the Syrian civil war that has killed more than 146,000 people, Jordan has also taken in some 584,000 Syrian refugees and there are some 226,000 in Iraq, according to UN figures.
Turkey meanwhile is housing nearly 641,000 Syrian refugees that have poured across its borders, and also received 44,000 individual asylum applications last year, making it by far Europe’s largest host country.
Syria’s neighbours “really need solidarity from the international community,” Turk said.
People fleeing conflict tend to have a far greater chance of receiving asylum, with 95 percent of Syrians on average offered protection in the countries they arrive in.
Acceptance rates are far lower for Russians, who are granted asylum in only 28 percent of cases, while only five percent of applications from Serbs and Kosovars are now being granted, according to the UNHCR report.