Asylum applications to the West on the rise
Wars in Syria and Iraq have driven the number of people requesting asylum in industrialised countries to a 22-year high last year, the United Nations has revealed, while appealing for Western nations to open their doors to more refugees.
An estimated 866,000 asylum-seekers lodged claims in 2014, a 45 per cent rise from the year before and the highest figure since the start of the war in Bosnia, when the all-time high of nearly 900,000 was recorded, according to the UN’s refugee agency the UNHCR.
“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,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
In the European Union, applications for asylum from displaced people increased by 44 per cent to 626,000 last year as civil war continued to ravage Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine.
The overall figure for asylum applicants increased by 191,000 over the previous year, with the number of Syrians rising to 122,800 from 50,000 in 2013, the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat said.
In 2014, Germany registered the highest number of requests within the EU, with 202,700 or 32 per cent of the total.
It was followed by Sweden with 81,200, or 13 per cent of the total, then Italy with 64,600 or 10 per cent, France with 62,800 or 10 per cent, and Hungary, with 42,800 or seven per cent.
“It should be noted that these five member states registered different trends last year,” a spokesman for Eurostat said.
Compared with 2013, the number of asylum applicants in 2014 more than doubled in Italy, up 143 per cent, and in Hungary, up 126 per cent.
Italy has been most concerned with a wave of migrants making dangerous boat voyages across the Mediterranean, mainly from Libya.
The figure increased by 60 per cent in Germany and 50 per cent in Sweden, but decreased by five per cent in France.
“Compared with the population of each member state, the highest rates of registered applicants were recorded in Sweden,” the Eurostat spokesman said.
There were 8.4 applicants per thousand inhabitants in Sweden, well ahead of Hungary at 4.3, Austria at 3.3, Malta at 3.2, Denmark at 2.6 and Germany at 2.5.
“In contrast, the lowest rates were observed in Portugal, Slovakia and Romania. In 2014, there were 1.2 asylum applicants per thousand inhabitants in the EU,” Eurostat said.
Syria was the main country of origin for asylum seekers last year, followed by war-torn Afghanistan with 41,300, and poverty-stricken Kosovo, with 37,900.
Out of 360,000 decisions taken by member states on asylum requests in 2014, 163,000 were positive, with the status of refugee or temporary protection granted.
Nearly a third of these decisions were taken in favour of Syrians. Many human rights organisations have complained that the EU has taken too few refugees, while countries bordering Syria have admitted some four million people fleeing the war.
But the EU said it was the leading donor to victims of the crisis, providing more than 3.2 billion euros ($US3.7 billion) in humanitarian aid.
Around 1,320 people from Ukraine sought asylum in Sweden last year, compared to 170 applicants in 2013, before the bloody conflict with Russia began – a rise 770 per cent increase.
Overall, the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers in the 28 EU member states ballooned to 14,040 people in 2014 – more than 13 times higher than the number in 2013 at 1,060 applicants, according to data released by Eurostat last week.
The UNHCR said last month that an estimated one million Ukrainians were displaced internally, with many people moving west. Some 600,000 people had sought asylum, many of them in non-EU countries such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova.
But many Ukrainians also applied for asylum in the European Union in 2014, a year that started with a revolution in Kiev and the ousting of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Russia then annexed Crimea in March, in a move widely condemned around the world, before propping up separatists fighting bloody battles with Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.
AMES Senior Journalist