Conflicts, Wars Expanding Refugee Population

Conflicts, Wars Expanding Refugee PopulationConflicts, Wars Expanding Refugee Population

The number of asylum seekers in industrialized countries has risen by nearly a quarter, the UN refugee agency says.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the rise was being driven by wars in Syria and Iraq as well as instability in Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere.

In the first six months of this year, the total number of people requesting refugee status in such countries increased to 330,700 - more than 24 per cent up on the same period last year.

“We are clearly into an era of growing conflict,” AFP quoted UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres as saying 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.”

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 people seeking asylum.

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 were 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.

The UNHCR emphasized that the number of people applying for refugee status in the 44 industrialized countries covered by the report only painted part of the picture.

Worldwide, 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced as of the end of 2013. Most remained within the borders of their embattled homelands, or had fled to neighboring countries.

 Cyprus Police End Stand-Off

Meanwhile, police in Cyprus have persuaded nearly 300 migrants, thought to be Syrian refugees, to disembark from the cruise ship that had rescued them, according to the BBC.

Police negotiators coaxed the migrants off the ship in the early hours of Friday, an official said, ending a stand-off that began on Thursday.

The migrants were rescued at sea by cruise ship Salamis Filoxenia.

Although 65 left the ship when it docked at Limassol, the rest reportedly insisted on being taken to Italy.

The Cypriot defense ministry said 52 children were on the small fishing boat that had sent a distress signal. All those rescued are said to be in good health.

The fishing boat was spotted in rough seas 55 nautical miles (100km) south of the town of Paphos.

Cypriot authorities said they had picked up a radio distress signal as the boat was caught in rough seas.