Arab Spring helps push 2011 asylum claims up 20 percent in the West (REUTERS) By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA, SWITZERLAND 03/27/12 8:58am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - The Arab Spring helped push up the number of people
seeking asylum in the West by 20 percent last year, with record
numbers fleeing conflicts in Libya, Syria and Ivory Coast, the United
Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
A total of 441,300 asylum claims were registered in 44 industrialized
countries in 2011 compared with 368,000 the previous year, the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Afghans formed the
biggest group, followed by Chinese and Iraqis.
"Reflecting turmoil in West Africa and in the Arab world, asylum
seekers from Cote d´Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Libya, Syria and other
countries reached record levels in 2011 with 16,700 more claims than
in 2010," the UNHCR said.
The largest regional rise was in those applying for refugee status in
southern Europe. Most arrived by boat in Italy and Malta, originating
from North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa. Turkey also saw a sharp
influx of Iraqis.
The 2011 figures were the highest since 2003 when more than 505,000
requests were lodged in industrialized countries.
Asylum and immigration are political flashpoints in many European
countries, including Britain, France and Italy, as well as in
Australia and the United States.
Italy had its largest ever number of asylum seekers last year with at
least 34,000 according to provisional government figures. That was an
increase of 240 percent, the UNHCR said.
"The government of Italy is still processing claims from 2011, so it
is likely that the number will go up even higher by a few thousand.
We´re waiting for the final numbers, but it´s a record number in
Italy in 2011," Tarek Abou Chabake, a senior UNHCR statistician, told
a news briefing.
"France and Germany went up, France for the fourth time in a row,
Germany now for the third time in a row, so figures are significantly
up," he added.
Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said it was
important to put the latest figures in perspective.
"The number of asylum claims received across all industrialized
countries is still smaller than the population of Dadaab, a single
refugee camp in northeast Kenya," he said.
The sprawling Dadaab complex, the world´s largest refugee camp,
shelters 462,856 Somalis who have fled war and drought.
EUROPE PREFERRED DESTINATION
About 35,700 Afghans sought asylum in the West last year, a 34
percent increase on 2010, while 24,400 Chinese lodged claims, half of
them in the United States. Iraqis were the third largest group,
filing 23,500 asylum requests in industrialized countries.
Europe was the preferred destination for refugees, with the
continent´s 38 countries receiving 327,200 asylum claims, a 19
percent annual increase. The European Union (EU), with 27 member
states, had 277,400 claims, a 15 percent rise.
But the United States was again the country that received the biggest
number of new asylum claims, accounting for 74,000 applications or
one in six overall. Requests there grew 33 percent, half of them by
asylum-seekers from China, Mexico and El Salvador.
Canada had 25,300 applications, a 9 percent rise.
France had the second largest number of asylum requests last year at
51,900, an 8 percent rise, due to more claims from Armenians and
Ivorians, though Russians formed the main group.
Germany was third with 45,700, an 11 percent increase, due to higher
numbers from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.
The number of asylum-seekers in Australia and New Zealand fell by 9
percent last year to 11,800, mainly because fewer would-be refugees
arrived in Australia by boat, it said.
"Asylum levels in Australia remain below those recorded by many other
industrialized and non-industrialized countries," the UNHCR said.
(Editing by David Stamp and Andrew Osborn) (© Thomson Reuters 2012.
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