EUROPE was the most sought- after destination for people fleeing their homes to seek asylum last year, with Britain welcoming around six per cent of the continent’s hundreds of thousands of requests.
A United Nations report found that European nations received 484,600 applications.
Germany topped the list with 109,580 pleas from persecuted citizens, followed by France with 60,100.
Sweden was third with 54,360, followed by Turkey with 44,810, while Britain was fifth with 29,190, marginally ahead of Italy with 27,830.
It is thought that the comprehensive welfare states of France and Germany and their location in mainland Europe are likely to be the reason for topping the table, though the UN did not detail the reasons for applications, nor how many were accepted by each state.
Sweden has long been a destination for asylum seekers due to high standards of living, while Turkey has also seen rising living standards and is typically the first stop for many fleeing persecution in the Middle East.
Syria, which is caught in the grip of war between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and both politically moderate rebel fighters and Islamist groups, saw more citizens fleeing than any other country, generating 56,351 asylum seekers in 2013, more than double the previous year’s 25,232.
Russia and Afghanistan also had large numbers of people fleeing their homelands to seek asylum. Russia become the second-biggest source with 39,779, up from 22,650 in 2012.
Volker Turk, director of international protection at the UN High Commission for Refugees, attributed its surge to “a strong migration element” traditionally related to the Russian region of Chechnya, where there have been many conflicts between separatist movements and Moscow.
He also said that he is expecting the number of Syrian asylum seekers to increase this year unless there is a political settlement to the crisis.
The UN report found that 38,653 Afghans sought asylum last year, versus 47,519 in 2012. It said 38,171 Iraqis and 34,660 Serbians sought asylum in 2013, for fourth and fifth place in the “league table”, respectively.
Outside Europe, the United States dealt with 88,360 asylum applications and Australia 24,320.
The report offered few specifics on countries’ rates of acceptance of asylum claims. It noted that applicants were more likely to receive favourable treatment if their homelands were suffering active warfare.
It found that most asylum applicants from Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan were successful, whereas only 28 per cent of Russians and just 5 per cent of Serbs won their asylum bids.
The UN did not detail an increase in the number of successful applications for each country.
The British Red Cross – which identified Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Somalia and Zimbabwe as the top five countries of origin – said 17,790 people applied to live in Britain in 2010 and 3,480 were granted refugee status.