Syria, Iraq conflicts push asylum numbers to 22-year high

The number of new asylum applications in 2014 is the highest since 1992, when the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina started

Wars in Syria and Iraq, coupled with armed conflicts, human rights abuses and worsening security conditions in other countries, pushed the number of asylum applications in industrialised countries to their highest in 22 years in 2014, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The number of new asylum applications registered in industrialised countries last year spiked 45 per cent to 866,000, compared to 596,600 in 2013, the UNHCR’s Asylum Trends 2014 report estimated. The 2014 figure is the highest since 1992, when the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina started.

“In the 1990s, the Balkan wars created hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. “Many of them found refuge in industrialised 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. 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.”

Syrians by far exceeded any other group of asylum seekers in 2014, lodging close to 150,000 applications, or one in every five applications in the industrialised world. Iraqis came second, accounting for 68,700 applications and almost doubling the number since 2013. The third largest group was Afghans, with almost 60,000 claims, followed by citizens of Serbia (and Kosovo) and Eritreans.

War in Syria has raged for four years, fuelled by anti-government demonstrations in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring uprisings. The conflict has escalated into civil war, driven by fighting between pro and anti-government groups, and Islamic State (Isis) militants seeking to establish further control in the country.

In Iraq, since the US’s 2003 invasion, the war-torn nation is still suffering sectarian violence and armed conflict.

According to the UNHCR report, among industrialised countries, Germany received the largest number of applications from asylum seekers, with more than 173,000 requests and a quarter of them from Syrians.

The US had around 121,200 asylum claims, mostly from Mexico and countries in Central America.

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

The fourth among 44 industralised countries included in the report was Sweden, with 75,100 applications, primarily from Syrians and Eritreans. Meanwhile, Italy saw its highest number of new applications on record in 2014, registering 63,700 requests. The claims were mainly from Mali, Nigeria and Gambia.

While Russia is not included in the report, it received approximately 265,400 applications for temporary asylum and 5,800 applications for refugee status from Ukrainians in 2014. Ukrainians also sought asylum in the other 44 countries, with applications growing from 1,400 in 2013 to 15,700 in 2014.

Considering the size of its population, Sweden had the largest number of asylum seekers, the reported noted. This translates into 24.4 asylum seekers per 1,000 inhabitants on average, during the last five years.

The report compiled data from 44 governments in Europe, North America and parts of the Asia-Pacific. The agency estimated 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalised violence or human rights violations at the end of 2013. Among them, close to 16.7 million people were refugees, 33.3 million were internally displaced in their own country, and around 1.2 million were asylum seekers.