On 21 March 2014 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released Asylum levels and trends in industrialised countries 2013. The report provides data on asylum claims lodged in 44 industrialized countries (38 European countries plus the USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia), and reveals a number of interesting trends.
Together, these 44 countries received around 612,700 new asylum applications in 2013, which represents a 28 per cent increase from 2012, and is the second highest annual level in the last two decades. The increase can be largely attributed to the exponential growth in asylum claims lodged by people from Syria—for the first time ever, the Syrian Arab Republic became the number one country of origin for asylum-seekers in 2013 (56,400 claims), pushing Afghanistan out of the top spot for the first time in several years. In fact, Afghanistan went from the number one country of origin for asylum seekers in 2012 to number three last year (38,700 claims), with the second top country of origin for 2013 being the Russian Federation (39,800 claims). This is an unprecedented figure for the Russian Federation, and represents an enormous 76 per cent increase on 2012 figures.
The 56,400 claims registered by people from Syria in 2013 was more than double the number for 2012 (25,200), and six times the number for 2011 (8,500), which reflects the current scale, and recent escalation, of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Syrian asylum seekers lodged claims in all 44 industrialised countries in 2013, with the most being lodged in Sweden (16,300) and Germany (11,900).
Almost all of the 44 countries included in the report experienced an increase in asylum claims in 2013. There was a 32 per cent increase across Europe, with the Nordic countries experiencing a 22 per cent increase overall, and southern Europe (including Turkey) experiencing a 49 per cent increase. By contrast, North America reported a relatively modest increase of 8 per cent on 2012 figures, with the USA’s 25 per cent increase being moderated by Canada’s 50 per cent decrease. UNHCR attributes the decline in applications lodged in Canada to recent reforms in asylum policy and the introduction of strict visa regulations for nationals from the Czech Republic and Mexico, which had been significant asylum source countries for Canada.
The number one asylum claim receiving country in 2013 was Germany, with 109,600 claims, followed by the USA (88,400 claims) and France (60,100 claims). Australia was the eighth ranked asylum claim receiving country, with 24,300 claims. This represented an increase of 54 per cent compared to 2012, and was the highest level on record for Australia. Unlike many European countries however, Australia’s increase cannot be attributed to the Syrian crisis, with Syria not being in the top ten countries of origin for asylum claims lodged in Australia. Most of Australia’s asylum applications came from people from Iran, followed by Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is important to note that the UNHCR’s asylum trends data demonstrates only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of asylum seekers and refugees worldwide. The latest UNHCR figures show that in 2012 there were some 45.2 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide in 2012, including 15.4 million refugees and 937,000 asylum seekers. Most do not make their way to industrialised countries to seek protection. In fact the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees are hosted in developing countries (usually in close proximity to the conflict zones), so the burden of assisting the world’s asylum seekers and refugees actually falls to some of the world’s poorest countries. In 2012 Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide, mostly from Afghanistan. Similarly, it is neighbouring countries which have borne the brunt of the exodus from Syria, with Lebanon currently hosting almost a million Syrian refugees, and Jordan and Turkey around 600,000 each. In comparison, the contribution by industrialised countries is small regardless of the fluctuations in the data each year—and Australia’s contribution is just a fraction of this.