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Asylum claims hit record high from Syria, Tunisia, Ivory Coast

March 27, 2012 | 11:26 am


More people clamored for asylum from countries in Arab Spring tumult, part of the global trends that pushed a 20% jump in applications to industrialized nations last year. The increase was observed by the United Nations refugee agency, which released a new report Tuesday on the 2011 trends.

The report analyzes the asylum claims received by 44 industrialized countries across Europe, North America, Australasia and northeast Asia. Those claims do not reflect the entire scope of people fleeing conflict and deprivation, as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees noted Tuesday.

"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," commissioner Antonio Guterres said.

Afghanistan had the most people seeking asylum, followed by China, Iraq, Serbia and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, asylum claims jumped by more than a third as uncertainty and violence continued to plague the Central Asian country, rebounding to their highest point since 2001.

The Arab Spring uprisings seem to have spurred record levels of asylum claims in Syria, Libya and Tunisia as people weathered the turmoil of protests and government crackdowns. In Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings, asylum applications soared from 910 to 7,907 people in a single year.

In Ivory Coast, more people were pleading for asylum than ever before as well. Violence raged in the West African nation after a president who lost reelection refused to step down. Human Rights Watch estimated at least 3,000 people were killed and more than 150 raped in the conflict before the violence stopped.

The United States has been the biggest recipient of asylum claims for six years in a row, according to the report. More people also pushed to get into Europe and Canada, the highest levels of demand in nearly a decade.

However, South Africa, which was not covered by the report, receives markedly more asylum applications than the United States, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday. The U.S. received roughly 74,000 asylum applications last year; South Africa received 107,000 claims.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Sri Lankan and Afghan detainess, many of whom are seeking asylum, look out from the fence at the Construction camp detention center Feb. 27 on Christmas Island, Australia. Credit: Paula Bronstein / Getty Images