GENEVA: The number of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries has risen by nearly a quarter, driven by the wars in Syria and Iraq as well as instability in Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
In the first six months of this year, the total number of people requesting refugee status in such countries rose to 330,700, a 24-percent increase on the same period in 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
“We are clearly into an era of growing conflict,” said UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres in a statement on his agency’s latest Asylum Trends report.
“The global humanitarian system is already in great difficulty. The international community needs to prepare their populations for the reality that in the absence of solutions to conflict more and more people are going to need refuge and care in the coming months and years,” he added.
Guterres also said that as things stand, it does not appear that resources and access to asylum procedures will be available for those in desperate need.
The report was based on data received from 44 governments in Europe, North America and parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
Based on historical norms of higher numbers of asylum-seekers in the second half of each year, it said the 2014 total could hit 700,000.
That would mark a 20-year high for industrialized countries, and a level unseen since the Balkan wars of the 1990s sparked by the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The bulk of new asylum claims was in just six countries: Germany, the United States, France, Sweden, Turkey and Italy.
Central Europe, in particular Hungary and Poland, as well as Australia, saw declines in the number of people asking for refugee status.
Overall, Syria was the main country of origin of people seeking asylum, with claims more than doubling to 48,400 from the 18,900 filed in the first half of 2013.
Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people have fled in the face of the offensive by the Islamic State jihadist group, produced 21,300 asylum applications, followed by Afghanistan with 19,300, and Eritrea with 18,900.
UNHCR underlined that the number of people applying for refugee status in the 44 industrialized countries covered by the report only paints part of the picture.
Worldwide, 51.2 million were forcibly displaced as of the end of 2013, mostly remaining within their embattled homelands’ borders or fleeing to neighboring countries.