GENEVA — A new report finds that Syria is churning out the largest number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries. The U.N. refugee agency's just-released report on asylum trends in 2013 shows a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialized countries last year.
The report says nearly 613,000 people lodged claims for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific last year. This is the highest total for any year since 2001.
The UNHCR said this sharp rise in asylum seekers is being driven primarily by the crisis in Syria.
That country now tops the list as the world's main origin for asylum-seekers, bumping Afghanistan into second position, with Russia in third place.
The director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection, Volker Turk, called Syria an international game changer. He said the number of Syrian asylum seekers shows how that country is affecting other regions and countries in the industrialized world, although they are far removed from the crisis in the Middle East.
"Last year, I was in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt. And it is clear that the longer that people are in displacement in often very difficult situations in the neighboring countries, the more you will see that desperation drives them to get on with their lives, to reunite with family members in other countries and to find ways and means to get out of an often very difficult situation," said Turk.
The report finds that six of the top 10 countries of origin, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan, are experiencing violence or conflict. It notes the 38 countries in Europe attracted the biggest increase in asylum claims - nearly 485,000. Germany received the largest number, followed by France and Sweden.
The report says North America received the second highest number of asylum claims, amounting to nearly 99,000. It says the United States is second only to Germany in the number of applications received.
Turk said the numbers of asylum seekers in this year's report clearly reflects what is happening in the world today.
"You will see that the numbers in relation to Central African Republic nationals seeking asylum is not yet reflected in these numbers, neither is South Sudanese. But, as we could see with Syrians, there may well be at some stage. The longer a conflict lasts, you may see the ripple effects of current crises that have not yet had an impact on the industrialized world. The longer these crises last, they may well have an impact on the industrialized world," said Turk.
The report says the acceptance rate of asylum seekers - those who are recognized as refugees or are given temporary international protection - varies widely. It says they tend to be higher among people fleeing conflict.
For example, it notes acceptance rates for people from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan are between 62 percent and 95 percent. On the other hand, acceptance rates from nationals of the Russian Federation, most of whom are Chechens, and Serbia and Kosovo are significantly lower. These countries, which are not at war, have an acceptance rate of around 28 percent and 5 percent respectively.