GENEVA - Nearly half a million people sought asylum in the developed world last year, a 10-year high, with the sharpest rise in requests from Syrians fleeing war and persecution, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In all, 479,300 asylum applications were lodged in 44 industrialized countries, a rise of 8 percent on the previous year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its annual report, entitled Asylum Trends 2012.
"This is the highest annual total since 2003, continuing a trend of increases in every year but one since 2006," it said.
Some 24,800 Syrian asylum seekers filed claims last year, triple the number in 2011, making them the second biggest group after 36,600 Afghan applicants, the report said.
But most Syrians fleeing the two-year conflict have stayed in neighboring countries, where 1.1 million Syrian refugees are registered, many hoping to return to their homeland, it said.