|Syrians, Russians fleeing in the thousands
Most asylum seekers turned to Europe last year as Syria, Russia and Afghanistan topped the list of places where people fled their homelands to ask for protection from another country, the United Nations refugee agency said.
A report by the agency found that Europe drew 484,600 asylum claims last year, 32 percent higher than in 2012. The report, which analyzes trends in 44 industrialized countries, says 612,700 people applied for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific in 2013 _ the highest total for any year since 2001 mainly due to Syria's civil war.
“If you look at it in a broader perspective, it's the second-highest annual level over the past 20 years,'' said Volker Turk, the agency's director of international protection. “We are actually going back to sort of the beginning of the 1990s where indeed we had a very high number of asylum applications in the industrialized world,'' he said, largely resulting from crises in the Balkans and African Great Lakes region.
Syria's 3-year-old civil war generated 56,351 asylum seekers in 2013, more than double the previous year's total of 25,232, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Syria became the world's biggest source for asylum seekers, surpassing Afghanistan, which fell to third.
Russia, meanwhile, become the second-biggest source of asylum seekers with 39,779, up from 22,650 in 2012. Turk attributed Russia's surge to migration from Chechnya, which has had years of conflicts between separatist movements and Moscow. He also said that he is expecting the number of Syrian asylum seekers to increase this year.
The 38 nations of Europe experienced the biggest 2013 increase in asylum applications, with Germany, France and Sweden the most popular destinations, particularly for Syrians.
Outside Europe, the United States dealt with 88,360 asylum applications, Australia 24,320.—AP