Syrians top world’s refugee list for first time

The United Nations refugee agency says Syrians, Russians and Afghans top asylum-seeker lists in industrialized countries

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Syrians constituted the largest group seeking asylum in industrialized countries in 2013 for the first time, the United Nations refugee agency said in a report released on Friday.

Syria, Russia and Afghanistan have also the largest numbers of people fleeing their homelands to seek asylum, and most are turning to Europe, the report, which analyzes trends in 44 industrialized countries, said.

Syria’s three-year-old civil war generated 56,351 asylum seekers to industrialized countries in 2013, more than double the previous year’s total of 25,232, the Associated Press reported the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as saying.

“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,” Reuters quoted Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as saying in a statement.

A record number of asylum requests by Syrians and Russians in 2013 raised the total number received in 44 rich countries to it highest since 2001, Reuters reported the U.N. agency as saying.

The total of 612,700 claims rose 28 percent 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 neighboring countries, with one million in Lebanon alone, the agency said.

Syria surpassed Afghanistan, which fell to third place. Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, the top country of origin for the two previous years, were the third-largest group in 2013 with 38,700 asylum seekers. According to the report, Turkey is their prime destination.

Russia, meanwhile, become the second-biggest source of asylum seekers with 39,779 seeking a home in foreign industrialized countries, up from 22,650 in 2012.

Volker Turk, the agency’s director of international protection, attributed Russia’s surge to “a strong migration element” that is traditionally related to the Russian region of Chechnya, where there have been many conflicts between separatist movements and Moscow.

But many Russian applicants appeared to be migrants joining family in Europe, mainly in Poland and Germany, rather than people fleeing violence and persecution, Turk said. He noted a lower rate of approval for their applications.

The 38 nations of Europe experienced the biggest 2013 increase in asylum applications, with Germany, France and Sweden being the most popular destinations, particularly for Syrians.

Europe as a whole had 484,600 asylum claims, 32 percent higher than in 2012. Germany received 109,580, France 60,100, Sweden 54,360, Turkey 44,810, Britain 29,190, Italy 27,830, Switzerland 19,440 and Hungary 18,570.

Outside Europe, the United States dealt with 88,360 asylum applications, while Australia dealt with 24,320.

The report offered few specifics on countries’ rates of acceptance of asylum claims. It noted that applicants were more likely to receive favorable treatment if their homelands were suffering active warfare.

It found that most asylum applicants from Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan were successful, whereas only 28 percent of Russians and just 5 percent of Serbs won their asylum bids.

(With the Associated Press and Reuters)

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