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Asylum claims in industrialized countries up sharply in 2011

People queuing outside the Belgian Department of Immigration in Brussels waiting to file an asylum application. the Department takes photos, fingerprints and a chest-x-ray. Personal data are also registered.

A report released on 27 March by the UNHCR shows that new conflicts and a rising outflow from older crisis spots such as Afghanistan together contributed to a 20 per cent rise in asylum claims in industrialized countries in 2011.

According to the report, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries 2011, an estimated 441,300 asylum claims were recorded last year compared to 368,000 in 2010. The report covers 44 countries in Europe, North America, Australasia and north-east Asia.

In relative terms, the largest increase was in southern Europe, which saw 66,800 asylum claims – a jump of 87 per cent. Most of these claims were from people who arrived by boat in Italy and Malta, but with a sharp increase also seen in Turkey.

"The large number of asylum claims clearly shows 2011 to have been a year of great difficulty for very many people. We can be thankful only that throughout this the international system of asylum has held firm," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

"Still, it is important to put these 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 north-east Kenya," he added, referring to a camp complex for Somali refugees.

Taken as a whole, the 38 countries of Europe together registered 327,200 claims, more than any other region and a 19 per cent increase over 2010. North America received 99,400 claims, almost a quarter more than the total a year earlier. Japan and the Republic of Korea registered a record 2,900 claims, a 77 per cent increase over 2010.

Only the Nordic countries and Australasia saw asylum seeker numbers declining, with falls of 10 per cent (45,700 claims) and 9 per cent (11,800 claims) respectively.

Reflecting turmoil in West Africa and in the Arab world, asylum-seekers from Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Syria and other countries reached record levels in 2011 with 16,700 more claims than in 2010.

The country of origin of the largest number of claimants was Afghanistan, with a 34 per cent increase over 2010 to 35,700. China remained the second largest source country (24,400 claimants), followed by Iraq (23,500).

The United States, with an estimated 74,000 claims, ranks as the country with the highest number of asylum applications in 2011 among the 44 countries covered by the report. Globally, however, the country with the highest number of asylum applications is South Africa (not covered by the report), which saw 107,000 claims between January and December 2011.

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