Syria and Iraq conflicts see asylum seekers up by 45% - UNHCR

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Migrants wait to register at the Central Registration Office for Asylum Seekers in Berlin on 11 March 2015Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Asylum seekers wait at a registration office in Berlin

The number of refugees seeking asylum in developed countries rose by almost half last year to the highest level for 22 years, a UN report says.

The UN refugee agency said an estimated 866,000 asylum seekers lodged claims in 2014, a 45% rise on the year before and the highest figure since the start of the war in Bosnia.

It said the increase had been driven by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Germany received the most applications at 173,000 - 30% of claims in the EU.

It was followed by the US, Turkey, Sweden and Italy as the countries with the most claims. Between them, the top five receiving countries accounted for 60% of all new asylum bids among the 44 included in the report.

'Step up to the plate'

The surge is linked to the spiralling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, which have created "the worst humanitarian crisis of our era," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters.

She urged European countries to open their doors, and respond as generously to the current situation as they did during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

"We need countries to step up to the plate," AFP news agency quoted her as saying.

The UNHCR figures do not include the millions of Syrians who have been taken in by countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

Syrians accounted for the most applications for asylum in 2014 - at nearly 150,000 - more than double the 2013 figure of 56,300.

Image source, EPA
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Syrians accounted for a quarter of the asylum claims made in Germany last year

More than 215,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the conflict in Syria started in 2011.

Iraqis came in second with 68,700 asylum requests, up from 37,300 the year before.

Afghans formed the third largest group, followed by citizens of Serbia and Kosovo, and Eritreans, the UNHCR said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Refugees from Afghanistan made up the third largest group of asylum seekers in the 44 countries in the report

Syrians accounted for a quarter of the claims in Germany, while people applying for asylum in the US were mostly fleeing drug gang violence in Mexico and Central America.

Sweden ranked fourth in terms of numbers at 75,100 applications, mainly from Syrians and Eritreans, but topped the list relative to its population size.

The UK was the eighth largest recipient of asylum applications at 31,300 in 2014, up 5% from the year before.